On Monday I completed a new marathon swim, The Crazy 8!, in tandem with my friend and dare I say mentor, Erika Gliebe. This nine-mile swim loops around Angel Island and Alcatraz in a figure 8 shape. It’s a crazy swim because it involves timing multiple changing tides and dodging cargo ships and oil tankers in the SF Bay channels. It’s challenging, and a bit crazy–hence the name– but on Monday we made it a reality.
I had the idea for the swim and pitched it to Pacific Open Water Swim Co. They liked the idea, then mapped out the tides and gave me the date I would need to do it. I invited my friend Erika, who over the past few years has taken me under her wing, and taught me a great deal about marathon swimming. I told her the date but the route was a secret. She liked the idea, and signed on.
The marathon swims I’d previously done have always taught me something deep and valuable about myself: I’ve learned a lot about my own resilience, mental strength, and fortitude. Tandem swimming is another animal, however. As I look back, it was an amazing lesson in Conscious Leadership. Here are the top 5 things I learned from completing The Crazy 8:
1.Know who is boss- I had initiated the swim, chose the support team, and made the call on the tides (with the help of Pacific Open Water Swim Co), once we were ‘toes in’ the water, Erika was the real boss. She’s more experienced, and her pace is faster than mine (for now!). For this to be a success, I had to step back and follow. LESSON: A conscious leader knows when to make a call and when to get out of the way.
2. Put the ego aside– Timing the tides for this particular swim was going to be tricky: not to mention avoiding interference from outbound cargo ships! To successfully complete this swim, we had to play Tetris with the tankers and tides. This swim hadn’t been officially recorded before, and because Erika was the stronger swimmer, there were variables we would have to deal with along the way. Vitally important to me was 1) we have fun and 2) we try our hardest to complete the swim. If my pace wasn’t going to match the tides, I made it clear I wanted out of the water so Erika could finish. The tides wait for no one, and the stronger swimmer prevails. LESSON: A conscious leader keeps laser-focused on the objective goal, and is not hung up about who gets us there.
3.Communication is key- Erika and I have swum together at least 100 swims, many of them for several hours. Erika breathes to her right and I breathe to my left. We have a history of bumping into each other, which is a disqualifying act in marathon swimming. I suggested I stay on her right and she stay on my left, that way we always have our eyes on one another. We could always see where our partner was, and then after feeds (which happened every 30 minutes), we knew which position to take. Communicating every knowable detail upfront helped us eliminate wasted time and effort on dithering in the moment. LESSON: A conscious leader communicates clearly and sticks to the plan.
4. Tap into your heart- Last month, we had suddenly lost a mutual friend and training buddy, Aaron Burby. This had been devastating. We had all trained together weekly, and his absence is still felt every day. Erika and I chose to swim in his honor. We wore matching orange goggles like the ones he would wear, and Erika even had her toes painted orange! During two make-or-break moments, I thought of Aaron. I dug deep and tapped into something beyond me for support, and it came through, and we overcame the obstacle! LESSON: Conscious leadership requires faith in something beyond yourself. Whatever that something looks like, figure it out and hold it closely. This will be your life jacket for when you need it most.
5. Keep your expectations in check– The pressure of a desired outcome can discolor the present moment. Of course I want to complete the swim. But I’ve noticed that when I go into a challenge with the mindset of “let’s see what happens” as opposed to “this must happen,” then I’m able to enjoy the process, and get more out of the experience. The re-framed bar allows me to take the pressure off, enjoy the ride and arrive at the outcome with more magnanimity. LESSON: Completion alone isn’t necessarily success, but experience is.
Erika and I shared the leadership, living the principles above, and we also shared the victory of completion (Erika came in at 4hr, 15min and I came in at 4hr, 16 min). She’s taught me everything I know and gives me space to be my own leader. I look forward to using these leadership tools as I guide our next team of Office Yoga Instructor Training this fall.
Amy Gubser says
Congratulations, Maryam, on completing this awesome swim milestone! I am so sorry about your friend, Aaron. I think we met him at your birthday and I’m sending you a hug in this time of grief. Take care and hope to see you soon.
Lisa B says
Amazing grace, desired outcome without judgement- the lesson of a true teacher.
Wonderful. I feel uplifted every time I read about what you do Maryam. Be well??
Maryam Sharifzadeh says
Merci Mitra joon!
You are so strong! Congratulations!
Maryam Sharifzadeh says
Thank you, Mirva!