Undertow

When I was about ten years old my family took a trip to Misquamicut in Rhode Island – a classic New England beach boasting hot sand, pounding surf and a never-ending supply of body-boarding wave perfection.

The waves were taller than I was and they came crashing one after another after another creating a frothy and frenetic threshold into the fun.  As we flung ourselves toward the next wave, timing was everything.  To catch it just right was to feel the whole ocean beneath you, speeding you forward as you crested and sloshed into shore.

Scrambling to our feet there was no time to savor the victory before the powerful backwash threatened to suck us under and the next wave was upon us.  It was real-time, physical, thrilling fun.

There have been many times in my work that I’ve felt a similar rush – when the waves of problems and fires and demands come fast and furious and I’m tested to the limits of my skill and stamina.  I’ve loved those times.  I even grew a bit addicted to them.  The adrenaline rush of accomplishing the impossible; the “I can do it” mentality.

Misquamicut is also known for its challenging undertow. Because of the beach’s steep grade, the backwash (the subsurface current of water that returns to the sea after a wave breaks) is pretty powerful.  And with so many waves coming in, it can often cause an unsuspecting swimmer to be knocked down under the water and beaten to a sandy pulp before being (hopefully) spat out to enjoy her next wave.

After a particularly fabulous wave run, I had waited too long to scramble out of the way.  As I tried to get to my feet, the undertow kept pulling the sand out from under me.  The next wave slammed down over me, knocking me flat and pulling me further from shore.  Unable to break the surface before the next wave crashed down, I was tossed and flipped under the water as I felt my face and limbs scraped against the ocean floor.  Starting to panic, I tried to figure out which way was up.  I needed to breath.  I needed to stand.  I need to get out of this. Does anyone even see that I’ve gone under?!?

While it may be gratifying to solve a million problems, douse a million fires and still stand to shout “BRING IT ON!”, those waves can get the best of you if you’re not careful.

Here are some tips:

1. Don’t be an adrenaline junkie. It’s easy to get swept up in the urgency and the chaos of your work environment.  If you want emergencies, become an EMT or a pediatric intensive care nurse.  Know your work, understand your goals, perform triage and move on.

2. Pay attention to your resources.  YOU are a resource.  If that resource is tired, distracted, overwhelmed or unhealthy, it will not serve you well.  Pay attention to your own health, strength and focus.  If your resources need restoring, do it.  It is irresponsible to do otherwise.

3. Have a buddy system.  Whether it’s your manager, colleague, coach or family member, having someone with whom you can review what’s going well (and what’s not) is invaluable. Often we’re the last ones to notice that we’re about to be swamped by the next wave.  Good to have a spotter.

4. Relax.  When we’re in the froth it’s natural to tense up against the onslaught and fight your way through.  It may be counter-intuitive but the best thing to do when the waves are getting the best of you is to relax.  Take a moment or an hour or a day to step back, gain perspective, go with the flow, follow a lead.  Our panicked reaction is not representative of our smartest, most creative self.

The ocean spat me out.  I was shaken, relieved, embarrassed, and a little miffed that no one had noticed that I had nearly drowned.

 

 

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