I didn’t experience this before the wedding. I didn’t ever feel jittery before the first day of school or a new program. Excited? Yes. Jittery with nerves and adrenaline?
Barring a few traumatic moments in my life, the last time I felt what I’m feeling now was in the pool.
Surprising to some, I was a competitive swimmer in high school. I was even the captain my senior year, which looking back is like “how?” My strongest stroke was the freestyle but I got lumped into doing the individual medley and 100M butterfly because I was the only girl on the team who knew (and cared to know) how to do it by regulation standards.
Hey, it was a Buffalo Public School. Practices lasted an hour after school and we weren’t expected to keep any kind of regiment on our own. I think I utilized the weight room for swimming purposes three times in my three years on swim team. At Lafayette, it was a resume builder and a great way to do something other than go home and do homework (which I ended up doing anyway when I got home even later — overachiever since way back when…)
But it was fun and when I did practice, I practiced hard. Did I think I’d ever be an Amanda Beard or even a D3 collegiate swimmer? No. I had fun and I filled my time.
But have I ever mentioned to you that I’m super competitive? I’ve eased up on it since I was 15-16-17 years old but I was SUPER competitive at things I knew I wasn’t even that good at.
My parents used to tell me that being competitive like that was a waste of energy because “there is always going to be someone who is better than you at what you’re doing.” Well that might be true but it’s not going to be true about the person who I’m swimming next to. So there. Sass.
In BPS, we had these All-High meets wherein all the schools got together at ECC City where we’d compete amongst every other school at the same time. And it was nerve-wracking because it was the capstone of the swim season and I would invite my mother who was there every year. Friends from other schools and at least a hundred of the other competitors parents and so were there.
And I remember seeing my name on the list for the 100M butterfly. And my heart sank. I’m basically a spaztastic impostor of a butterfly swimmer and they want me to go up in front of City Honors, DaVinci, and Hutch Tech as their butterfly swimmer?
You’re probably wondering “And I’m telling you this story why?”
Last night, the last three presenters from my cohort presented their plans and defended their campaigns to the panel. The capstone of our graduate program. The last three presenters before it’s my turn, that is.
When I looked at my phone last night and it was 9:45, I knew that their defenses were done. And it was my turn. I’m on deck. And as unfortunate as it is, my mind automatically blanks and I’m suffering from impostor syndrome. They want me to defend what? How? Yeah I know the material… but do I know the material?
And as weird as it may sound… for a brief second I swore I smelled chlorine. And I started shaking my hands and bouncing side to side like I used to do at the starting mount. Time to psych myself out. I’m not an impostor. I’ve put in the work, I know what I know, and it’s time to own it.
Hopefully this works as well as it did then because all I remember from then is hearing the starting pistol, jumping in the pool, and I’d focus on my strokes. Going as fast as I can because I’m never more prepared than I am in this moment.
And at the end, I’d come out glaringly average. Not the best in the pool but not the worst.
But my parents always said that they were proud. And without fail, each time, said “at least you finished the race, Sam.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant then. In fact, it kind of made me feel a little mad when they said that. That’s it? But since its been almost 7 years since my last time in the pool (for competition) I think I know what they mean.
Tomorrow, when I go into my presentation, I have to believe in myself. I have to do what I’ve been working on for months. I know this.
And at the end, if I’m not the top student — at least I finished the race. I still have my master’s degree. And 7 years from now, it’s likely no one will care who the top student was (less our program stats/records and the person who was top).
It makes sense. I couldn’t tell you who won the butterfly race. Or who lost it the worst. Or even what place I came in. I finished my race.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing my high school swim meet to my graduate degree here. And I am taking my program a bit more seriously than an hours practice per day. But it’s a lesson I’m carrying over in dealing with nerves. I’m 24. I’m being critiqued by a panel of seasoned experts in the field. And I’m trying to convince them of a plan that utilizes all the elements of marketing communication that they could pick apart in seconds if it’s wrong.
Time to psych out. Shake my hands and bounce side to side, if need be.
I’m never more prepared than I am in this moment.
Time to go practice a little more so I’m more prepared in that moment than I am now.
Time to finish my race.