cognitive dissonance

You have to keep a straight back. Stare at the ceiling- usually, there’s a plastic fan or two rotating overhead. If you’re doing it right, you won’t hear much past a muffled fuzz. Limbs extended, navel up. When we teach kids to float we tell them to pretend they’re a starfish- five points, in five directions. Let go of the fear of going under. It’ll be peaceful, even, if you’re okay with just holding still.

This was your first lesson in the pool. Once we learn to love a newfound buoyancy , we can swim freely. It comes second nature. After all, as your doula might remind you, you could do this before you were born. You just forgot about it for a second or two.

I. need for speed

Most of us might be pretty okay with floating for a few minutes, but probably wouldn’t consider hitting the pool to just ‘take a float’. We like moving. We like moving fast. The pace clock is for measuring speed, not time spent staring at the ceiling.

Even though it can come second nature if we want it to, holding still is hard. Being comfortable to just move with the tide doesn’t come easily. And for good reason- years of evolution have taught us that when the time comes, survival depends on being ready to move away from the tide. How can you be ready from standstill?

II. sink or swim

Meritocracy teaches us that what is ‘sufficient’ or ‘good enough’ is really neither of these things. If you want to excel, you have to be far from average. What is ‘sufficient’ is mediocre, and mediocrity is unacceptable. This is how we operate. If you want freedom, you have to constantly be working to prove your merit. Pausing can sometimes seem synonymous with accepting failure- if you don’t swim, you’ll sink.

Swimming isn’t the opposite of sinking. If the goal is to avoid sinking, floating will suffice.

Swimming is one step further – you’re in your element, and can function freely. So why float?

III. giant pink flamingo


If you didn’t take a picture with one of these last summer, did you even have a summer?

 For us, floating is categorically, a break. It requires no effort, takes us (usually) nowhere, and we can go back to moving whenever we want. Float once in a while and you probably deserved it. Float too long and you’re lazy- do you even know how to swim?


I’m completely exhausting this metaphor because a) I’m exhausted and b) in the hopes of illustrating what changing pace feels like. Moving to a new place and starting a completely new life is a lot like learning to stay afloat. It can feel like you’re barely able to keep your head above water. You soon realize that if you just stop thrashing, you’ll get the hang of it. So you do. You slow down. You remind yourself that you have to adjust to being in your element before you can function freely.

Still, there’s a voice in your head reminding you that this is laziness, you’re not doing enough, you might as well accept defeat, you have to swim. It’s not a matter of if, but when- you will sink. So you find yourself thrashing again, trying to swim. It’s your own self-fulfilling prophecy- you find yourself sinking again.  You slow down. Remind yourself that you have to adjust to being in your element before you can function freely.

The space between ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’ feels mediocre at best and stifling at worst. If you’ve ever known what thriving feels like, you probably feel the latter. Why’d you have to go and ruin a good thing? You wonder why you thought you needed a change of pace in the first place. You mentally calculate how much time you’re losing to adjustment daily. You double check using a calculator, because your mental math is rusty. Am I stagnating so much? If I hadn’t moved I’d probably still be proficient in Calculus.

It’s completely irrational but completely normal and you’re caught in an endless cycle of self-monitoring and self-assurance. You give yourself a headache. Time rolls forward. You stop checking the time. You start doing yoga. Limbs extended. Navel up.  I’m okay holding still. You probably never will be. But there’s a slight spring in your step and you’re breathing easier.


It’s not your element yet, but it soon will be.


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