What I Learned From Swimming in the Ocean



I was always a real water baby. From my early days as a toddler, when I used to submerge for long periods of time in my grandma’s gigantic claw foot bathtub – much to her dismay. She never knew when I was going to pop back up. I have always felt a real kinship to water. But I grew up in a landlocked city in Germany with no swimmable lakes nearby. The river which flanked our town was very polluted and not suitable for swimming. The public pools were overcrowded and far away. What was a budding mermaid to do? Grandma’s tub just had to suffice at the time.


It was not until I moved to the West Coast of Canada that I discovered how incredible swimming in the ocean really is.

It is downright cathartic.



My family moved from an apartment in the city of millions, to a house on the ocean in a sleepy beach community near Vancouver, British Columbia. Moving there had been my father’s dream for 30 years and it finally came true. Our life changed dramatically, in a good way. We had never lived so close to nature before. It had a tremendous positive impact on me as I grew up. I spend the rest of my childhood near the ocean. And even as my career had me move to other places over the years, the ocean always beckoned me back.


Living near, in, on and around an open body of water is pure magic.


I now live a few blocks away from the ocean and I still embrace the magical moments of swimming in it. As soon as you walk into the cool wet deep blue ocean, seagulls and eagles circling above, starfish and seaweed below, it feels like you enter another sphere of reality. Sometimes quiet, sometimes rough, the ocean is always open, deep and mysterious. As simple as it is complex. An alternative enchanted world to the one we are more familiar with above water.




If you can swim and have access to open water – be it a lake, river or the ocean – don’t pass up the experience!


Living near the ocean is one thing, joining its midst is another. It is hard to describe how wonderful it feels, if you have not tried it. Swimming in open water feels exhilarating and grounding all at the same time. The water feels silky against your skin. Being moved by waves or currents is humbling and reminds you how connected you are with our planet.




Perhaps the positive emotions created by immersing yourself in ocean water is rooted in the fact, that evolutionary speaking, we all originated from the sea. No wonder it feels great to go back! When you connect with nature, it becomes easier to get grounded in what is really important in the moment. Not what might happen down the road, next week, month or year. But truly live in the now.


One of the key secrets to creating the life you really want, is to cultivate a conscious awareness and appreciation of what it good in the moment.


Nature, and especially the ocean, does a really great job in bringing us back to this simple truth. Here a few more inspirational lessons I learned from swimming in oceans, rivers and lakes:



One. If you want good things to happen, learn to be okay with being uncomfortable at first. Whether you have never swum in the ocean or you have done it for years like myself, feeling some apprehension goes with the territory. And that is not a bad thing. It is normal to want to resist doing something which may be uncomfortable. But when you push through that initial reaction, the empowerment you feel acts like instant jet fuel to the rest of your life.

Truth be told, water in my neck of the woods is cold. Making time for swimming is not always easy. Unless you live on the ocean, it takes some planning to make it happen. The first step is to get past your own complacency and bias to keep things routine and predictable.

Here is the learning: New anything is disconcerting and sometimes downright freaky at first. New job. New home. New family members. Unsettling stuff. Same with swimming in the ocean! What they all have in common, is that once you move through the initial discomfort, you come out on the other side with new wisdom, experiences and growth. Happiness flourishes here. You find your sweet spot. Ahhhh, yes.


Two. A great life resides in making the most of and enjoying each moment by moment in the present. To do this, you need to shut off your future thinking habit and get grounded in the current experience. Eckart Tolle wrote a powerful book called Living in the Now, which really explores this concept.

Swimming in the ocean forces you to live in the now. It puts negative ruminations about daily life on hold. You are attending to more important things like staying afloat, watching the current etc. in the immediate moment. I have never swum in the ocean and worried about what I am going to say at my next speaking engagement or what to make for dinner or what my in-laws think of me. Never. It’s like that type of thinking is dissolved by the ocean. Magic, right? And more often than not, I leave it there when I come out. When you get out of the ocean afterwards, you have the opportunity to choose if you want to resume those thoughts, or just leave them behind. Floating away, because they don’t serve you and you don’t need them.


Three. Learn to accept circumstances which are not ideal AND leverage your strengths despite them. Sometimes, I make great plans to get a swim but the conditions turn out to be less than ideal – the tide is too low exposing sharp rocks covered in barnacles or it is too choppy, windy, cold and maybe even raining. My first reaction may be disappointment and frustration: “What? This is not how I envisioned this to be!” Sound familiar to when something does not go the way you expected it to? I think there is a parallel to life here. It can really throw you off. But here you are, with your bathing suit on an a towel under your arm. Decision time. What is it going to be? Are you going to retreat with your tail between your legs, or take a deep, beautiful breath and make this moment, as imperfect as it may seem, your moment. Because you are strong. You are passionate. You are determined. And you go for what you need.


Four. If things look rougher than you expected them to be, get your “neoprene” on. If you are in a situation as I  described above and you feel you could benefit from extra help, there is no shame in accepting it. Neoprene keeps you afloat even if you are not a great swimmer. It keeps you warm and protected against the elements for those days you need it.

What is your equivalent to the neoprene for your life? Something or someone who give you just a little (or a lot) of support through the rough patches? Versus sitting on the sidelines, watching others do what you wish you could. There is no shame in asking for help. The greatest of leaders and biggest visionaries know this to be true.

Here some questions to ponder: What keeps you from asking for or accepting help? Pride? That won’t keep you afloat. Vanity? Ditto. Do you believe the narrative that you should be able to do things on your own? As you explore these questions, be curious about your assumption and discard them when ready.




Most people never leave their comfort zone, they miss out on incredible life experiences.


Swimming in the ocean is a great way to start stretching yourself. If you have not tried it, I hope reading this blog changes your mind. But so could a number of other activities. If you don’t want to try swimming in the ocean, then what activity will you try? Find one and go for it! Don’t be landlocked in your thinking. Life is there for the taking. Reach out and grab it. It is spectacular.


What activity will you do to help you tap into truly living your life? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to know!


BTW: This is the first installment of a “What I learned from …” series of blog posts. This theme is inspired by the idea of gaining meaningful learning, not just from your own life experiences, but also from others.





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