Veni. Vidi. Vici. Dedici.
Do you ever embark on learning something just to prove you can keep learning?
Last week, I completed the first course of any kind I’ve taken in many years.
The final exam involved standing up in front of 15 half-naked people, walking into a concrete box filled with water, and not dying.
Not long ago, this would have felt like some version of hell, but after jumping into a pool for the first time in my life, and then propelling myself on my back 60 feet to the other side, I can say with some degree of confidence that I finally learned how to swim. At least, I learned the fundamentals (like the ‘not dying’ part).
It’s a skill that I managed to avoid learning for four decades. As a child, I was fearful of the water. And then that fear transformed into stubbornness. It was being stubborn, not fearful, that made me resist against any attempt at lessons during my summers at sleepaway camp in the Berkshires.
And then, for decades, swimming just wasn’t a part of my life. I would go to pools and beaches, and I even got married on the beach. I would wind up on quite a few boats and always enjoyed being out on the water (on, not in, nor under). Heck, I traveled to the Galapagos Islands and the Maldives. And yet, through stubbornness and then indifference, I still managed not to swim.
I’d like to think there was a revelatory moment that changed everything. There wasn’t.
A number of years ago, I tried private swimming lessons a few times, but any of the approaches the instructors used didn’t work for me. In time, I’d manage to swim across a short length of a pool underwater without stopping to breathe, but I by no means learned how to swim.
Becoming a parent increased my motivation to learn, but still, several years went by without any progress. And then, this year, that changed.
There is one thing I did differently this time. Before, I always opted for private lessons, thinking that would be the fastest way to learn, as the instruction could be adapted to my ability. But after searching online, I stumbled on Blue Ocean Swimming led by Coach Robert Valentin, and following a couple of email exchanges with him, I signed up for his beginner class.
It was only a set of six sessions, and they were much less expensive than private lessons. There were 12 to 15 people in the class – far more than I thought could be taught in any meaningful way. And yet the coach was not just a teacher of swimming but a student of teaching. He made it clear that his 45-minute classes weren’t designed as swimming lessons; they were designed to teach us how to swim.
This is an important distinction. He was reasonably confident that he had cracked the code to the instruction. His goal was not to give us lessons, but to teach us a skill. Given how relatively little time there was, he still found time to teach us about his teaching methods. He’d teach us why he wasn’t teaching us in traditional ways. He’d teach us the perils of looking up something on YouTube and learning it wrong.
And in the process, he taught us, more or less, how to swim.
I didn’t realize the additional bonus of group classes. I have a competitive streak, which I don’t indulge too much, as by nature I am much more prone to cooperation. But here, in this larger group, I was determined to surface near the head of the class. That pushed me harder. I wasn’t always the best at every new skill we would take on, but I was for damn sure going to be near the top.
I also worked at it. I had a couple of trips during this stretch where I had access to hotels’ pools. That included South by Southwest, where I brought my wetsuit and goggles and managed to swim in an outdoor, unheated pool three of the four days I was there with the morning weather in the low 50s; at least one of those three days, it was also raining. I was freezing, even with the short-sleeved wetsuit. Still, I relished getting the workout in and reinforcing my skills. The one day that I didn’t swim was the day after the Serial Marketers brunch where I was so full from doughnuts and breakfast tacos nearly 24 hours later that I could not easily leave the hotel room.
In the final class, I jumped in the pool for the first time, and then a second time at the end of the class. The first time was terrifying. My body froze at the edge. I faced a visceral, physiological response. It felt like I was trying to walk into a glass wall that only I could see.
There was no way I was going to stay frozen. I held my breath. I jumped. I rose up to the surface. And for that class, floating and treading and swimming in the deep end, I barely touched the pool wall once. The second time I jumped, the visceral response returned, but it was much easier to find the override switch, and I took a forceful jump rather than a tenuous step into the water. I then propelled myself on my back down the full length of the pool.
Coach Valentin is one of the best instructors I’ve ever had in any subject. Before the final ‘exam,’ I already signed up to take the next level of classes. I’m not done competing yet, and I have far too much to learn to stop now. I’ve since joined the NYC rec centers, as some have pools with general swim, and my ID card is a new badge of honor.
I will have to get used to a different identity. I thought of myself as a non-swimmer averse to group instruction, but the coach proved me wrong.
He didn’t have quite so much to prove though. By the time the dozen or so of us non-swimmers arrived at the pool at St. Bartholomew’s church, we were ready to unlearn what we had to and reinvent ourselves in a new image. Our coach might have foreseen that we could be remade, but only because somehow, we all felt it was somewhere inside ourselves.
As a bonus, I am now the mayor of St. Bartholomew’s athletic facilities on Swarm. If you had to ask anyone who knows me what are the two least likely spots I’d be the mayor of, it’d be a church or a gym, so that’s an added digital badge of honor.
I’ve made far more of myself than usual the past two months. I couldn’t even write about this until I took that literal plunge. Yes, Coach Valentin, I did take swimming lessons, just like I had before. But finally, this time I also learned how to swim. I learned a few things about teaching too. As a teacher, you’re not there to teach a subject; you’re there to foster your students’ learning. It’s a change in perspective I hope to never forget.
Even if your own endeavors are less dramatic (and less aquatic), I always want to hear about them. Be sure to let me know what you’re making of yourself.
LEARN. TRY. SHARE.
YOU KNOW, FOR KIDS
Apple is up to its storytelling magic with the new ad featuring the round pizza box. Yet Mike Murphy writes in Quartz, “…It appears that the box, like just about everything Apple focuses on these days, is an over-engineered solution to a problem that had already been solved in a less expensive way.” I’m not sure that ad “highlights everything wrong with the company right now” as Murphy suggests (for me, AirPods 2 and canceling the wireless charger highlight everything wrong with them), but it’s a useful counterpoint to all the praise for the ad.
YOU KNOW, NOT FOR KIDS
As a parent, the first screen rule I had to enforce was that my kid couldn’t use YouTube; even the YouTube Kids app has some unsafe content. This report on YouTube’s callousness with heinous content makes me slightly relieved about the policy but much more concerned about what else is festering there.
LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE
The co-founder and co-genius behind Genius Steals, Faris Yakob, recently tweeted a link to a story in Campaign Live about the very young Alpha cohort that is still largely wearing diapers (it comes after Generation Z). The column starts, “As a millennial mom of a kid in the coveted Generation Alpha demographic that brands are working to woo even though the bulk of the target audience is still in diapers, I see why marketers are bullish about our babies.” Faris’s gut reaction? “What? No. Leave them alone.” The funny thing is I wrote a version of this column in 2016. But my kid wasn’t even two yet. And my column was a joke. Compare them for yourself.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL
My former colleague James Yancey just launched a new firm, Inspirational, “to create products and services that help families decrease their time on devices and reclaim it together doing healthy and inspiring activities.” They published research on how 50 families navigate screen time, and they’d love your input too. Take the survey to help them out and also receive the full report.
THEIR FATHER’S CORPORATE HELL DID SLOWLY GO BY
Last week, author, entrepreneur, and innovator Joe Jaffe came to the Serial Marketers community (which you’re welcome to join, if you’re not there yet) for our first-ever live author interview, and given how much fun this was, I hope it’s the first of many. I still want to share more about this discussion of his provocative and fun book “Built to Suck” (“fun” if reading about the demise of the corporation is your idea of a good time), but in the meantime, here’s a link to download the full audio recording. Sorry, or you’re welcome, that I don’t have a podcast. Also, mea culpa: I recorded a video but managed to only record myself even while Joe talks, so while you can access the video too, you’re better off just listening.
P.S. Trying this one more time… You’ll remember my stroopwafels!
(I still like it. See the previous issue if you’re really confused.)
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Here’s an afternoon event I’m excited to get to. “The Tech Council’s 22nd Venture Conference showcases the region’s most promising companies and offers insights from many of the nation’s top investors. We expect over 1,000 entrepreneurs, developers, angel investors, venture capitalists, investment bankers, lenders and business leaders as well as students and professional advisors from the region. The event will be held at the Wellness Center at NJIT in Newark.”
Use code Sara25 for 25% off – an exclusive here from my friend Sara who’s one of the organizers.
I’ll be speaking at this epic Mexican event coming up, sharing a talk on The 17 Types of Startup Marketers (yes, I’ll post slides after). My talk is in Business Land, but there is also Blockchain Land, Iron Land, and Agro Land, among others. I hear the event goes 24 hours a day. And apparently there is camping. This should be muy loco. I can’t wait. If you happen to be there in Guadalajara, let me know.
Techonomy is back with their next NYC installment, bringing together some of the world’s foremost business leaders, pundits, and innovators – and it’s the kind of event where practically every attendee could be a keynote speaker in their own right. They write, “Tech changes everything, which we love, but it can’t just be a way to make more money. To figure out how to help the world move forward, we have to collaborate more. All this we discuss at Techonomy NYC.” I’m looking forward to going to this one.
July 31-August 1
CommerceNext, the summit for next level customer acquisition (and one of the best events I’ve ever sponsored), is coming back to NYC. The 700+ person conference will have 80+ speakers from leading retailers, DTC brands and innovative tech companies. Speakers include Purple, TechStyle, Victoria’s Secret, Men’s Warehouse, Bonobos, Casper and more! Learn more: