The life lesson I learned from a 6-year old’s desire to swim to the deep end.

My 6 year old neice, Elin and the life lesson she taught me.

This is my 6-year-old niece, Elin. She has wanted to swim in the deep end ever since last summer. She was so excited to swim, but often she would yell from the pool, “Aunt Shannon, Aunt Shannon, please get in.” As soon as I would get in the pool, she would cling to me like a little spider monkey the entire time. We would work on her swimming, but she would never quite let me get more than arm’s length away.

This summer was different. This time Elin yelled, “Aunt Shannon, Aunt Shannon, watch me!” Elin bounced in the shallow end excited to show me something. As I turned around to watch her, she took off and swam for the deep end. I started to walk towards the side of the pool in case I needed to jump in, but she swam all the way to the wall, grabbed on, caught her breath, and exclaimed with excitement, “I can swim to the deep end”. She sure could and she did!

Later, we were at Grant’s Farm looking at all the animals and I asked Elin, “How did you swim to the deep end all by yourself? Did you practice this summer?” She looked up at me and said, “I just believed in myself, and I did it.”   

Her simple statement was filled with innocence and also inspiration. It reminded me of when I had applied for the role of Executive Director for the Dental Health Theatre. At the time, I was fundraising for a dental school and looking to change my career path. I saw the role for the Executive Director position, so I revised my resume and wrote a cover letter, but I didn’t send it. Not at first anyway. Self-doubt had crept in and like Elin was last summer, I was afraid to go after something that I felt was beyond arm’s length. I questioned myself and my abilities. I wondered why anyone would hire me for an Executive Directors role when I had never even managed a single person. It was several days before I finally got up the courage and applied for the job. As I was talking myself into applying, I was telling myself, “The worst they can say is no.” instead of “You can do it.”  I realized that fear of rejection is what was keeping me from applying.

“You can do it!” is a phrase we have all have heard before. It is a phrase that every parent, coach, or teacher has said to a child while encouraging confidence as they reach new heights- or in Elin’s case- new depths. It is a phrase I have said many times to the children in my life knowing they were capable beyond the challenge in front of them. But I have noticed that as we grow into women, we do not listen to our inner child as much. We dull our sense of self. Imposter syndrome, that weak voice that we make loud, that tells us we can’t when our higher, more childlike self knows we can.  My adult self was so proud and in awe of Elin. It has inspired me to reach for new heights and tackle obstacles.  I want to embrace and honor my inner child that knows I can in fact do it and from here on out live Elin’s life lesson and tell myself, “I believe in you.”

I went on and applied for the job at Dental Health Theatre. Not only did I get the position, but I stayed for 13 years, raised over $5 million dollars total, and built it into a full-scale children’s museum now known as HealthWorks! Kids’ Museum St. Louis.

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