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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Before you worry about the finish, at least get to the start

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

This is a different post to the one I thought I would write...although given my most recent experience in open water, the key point is actually still the same!! There's no point worrying about the finish if you don't even get to the start!

I was supposed to do the Dart10k on Saturday (Sept 3rd) but it has JUST (Thurs Sept 1st) been cancelled due to inclement weather.

For info: swimming 10k is the equivalent of the 26.2mile run - but open water there's no-where to "pull off to the side and catch your breath". And until Jan I didn't even swim with my face in water!


While I had trained *really* hard - to the point where I've swum 3-4 x per week since Jan including open water once a week since May and my hair is breaking off because of the chlorine(!); I am doing 6 (sometimes 7) days of exercise including a 5k run, >3k walks, plus pool swims, and strength work; and I managed 8k in the pool (part of the training plan) in a very respectable time so I'm pretty sure I have the stamina - I had a mild panic in Willen Lake yesterday with the main success being - I (eventually) got myself round the 400m and out (the kayak was actually rescuing someone else!!)

Try and try again? Not for me (historically)!

I come from a *long* history of my mum saying "That's ok dear, just don't do it" or my dad seeing if money would talk (bless them). I've had to learn to keep going when things got tough; to NOT entertain the "golden parachute", and to build up my own self-sufficiency - as well as, conversely, to recognise when something WASN'T worth hanging on to/when "quitting" was the right choice.

SO, before the cancellation email came through, I actually spent the day doing "minimise panic meditations", visualising the route, reminding myself I've swum in colder, and I knew I would still *show up* at the start line AND with a plan to warm up on land, hopefully build up from very (very) slow to find my rhythm and finally allow myself the chance to reap the rewards of my training...

Then, if I was still fished out 200m in, I could nonetheless be grateful I got to this stage, be immensely proud of my *own* work thus far (since my #middleclassproblems didn't always give me great role models!), and I certainly didn't think getting a medal (or not) would affect my worth!

Self development is one thing, what lessons can I share:

1.To worry about the finish, you need to get to the start

I had spent all my training focused on the distance and building my times. I'd even dismissed the other 2 mild panic attacks that I had (in Willen and at the start of the 24hr swim, which I completed) as poor breathing technique. In a way that did mean I got a hold of how to breathe, but panic is a thing and it can happen regardless. It suddenly hit me that while I actually had been "worrying" about whether I could make it, I probably DID have the stamina and strength, but to unleash that I had to get through the first 200 meters.

And that's a huge lesson - to even start thinking about the finish, I really needed to get to the start. How often do we worry about things that "could" happen in the future, when we haven't even set the wheels in motion in the first place?

- Yes if you need to get "ducks in a row" please do so (it's like the fact that I DID train)

- BUT make sure you have a plan to start moving those ducks

- AND set it in motion.

2. When something isn't in other's landscapes, you need to teach them

In my big picture it really doesn't matter in my case, but because the landscape of some of those around me is, well, land, they can understand the enormity of doing a 26.2 run, but not see the 10k swim as being equivalent and needing the same amount of training. I had to give up hours of my day or else a weekend to put in the long distances...luckily just recently much of my work has been at night, but if you do want people to recognise something, especially something YOU are very much into, you will likely need to teach them. so without shame nor blame ie "but they SHOULD know" didn't until you started right!?

...and those who get it will hear and learn (and I've had so many lovely supportive comments of recognition of effort from friends for which I'm so grateful), and any others...well, I come back to - not needing (nor heeding) the opinion of someone from whom you wouldn't ask advice (or in this case why talk or try to teach someone - who doesn't understand the situation and doesn't care to learn?!)

3. Ask don't assume

This seems such a funny one to put here, but when I had this recent panic, my husband said "I told you to practice flipping onto your back"...flipping onto my back wasn't the problem, and I had practised's going to sound so stupid, but what I hadn't practised was apart from knowing it would keep me afloat, I didn't know what to do when I was there. It dawned on me (and him) that his meaning was - flip onto your back and scull or even kick your legs for a bit...mine was flip onto your back and starfish...!

Just because we are in one mindset we cannot assume everyone else is of the same. I should know this being a coach(!) Sometimes even if something is really clear to us we may still have to check back that everything is understood. This is why paraphrasing can be so helpful, and making sure that you have created a safe space for people to ask questions (even if they think they are stupid) - and letting said people know that too!

4. It's really hard NOT to project your feelings onto others

All the way through I was really struggling with my own lack of experience compared with the very valid concerns of those who had been there and done that, and I think they also struggled with understanding my starting point was so far behind theirs. (In fact I joined the Dart10 facebook group and left it after reading 3 posts from seasoned swimmers talking about their training in skins in various seas!) AND I also see that while for me what followed shock was relief on seeing the cancellation email, for others it was absolutely gutting...and that's before taking into account the money on entry, accommodation and travel that people aren't getting back...not to mention the fundraising which is never easy...but I am reminded by a dear friend that fundraising is about supporting the journey to the start line as much as the event itself.

You are always allowed to feel as you feel - just be mindful of others not feeling the same. Yes, maybe you have to check yourself, or perhaps you just need to share your joy, or sadness or whatever with a different person, but it's not about supressing, it's about compassion - to you and others.

4a. When there is such a disparity between views, perhaps you need to check the root cause

This is a bit of an aside but worth noting. While on the one hand I was looking in fear at the training of the other swimmers, perhaps the truth is, I simply wasn't ready anyway! This doesn't take away from all I have done to get where I am right now as a swimmer - and I can rock it in the pool; BUT when I stopped getting "angry" at people "Not understanding me" I began to question - was I not understanding the event? Was I so taken by enthusiasm that I had lost a bit of a grip on the reality of what I was capable of?

The lesson here is that if you DO get the chance to look beneath the surface of emotions, you might find where the real learning gets done. Using Toyota's "5 whys", let's address this:

- I'm getting upset with people posting about their wild swims

(WHY) - because I haven't done anything near to that

(WHY) - because I've just started swimming

(WHY) - because I signed up to the challenge in Feb without thinking about how tough it really is

(WHY) - because swimming is really not in my landscape and I don't necessarily need it to be!

(WHY) - because actually, I'm happy I've got the skill in the pool now, but I don't care enough about it to put the real work in beyond what I've done!

...and THAT leads me onto point 5!!

5. There is truth in the importance of doing what you love - skills can be learned, but strengths will endure

I don't love swimming to the extent that I had to do it in training, and I really don't love open water. I'm very much a tropical fish (think manatee or sea cow rather than anything more elegant or faster), and the discovery of waterproof bone conducting headphones was a God-send. I began to resent the swimming more and more despite knowing I had improved (I'm pretty good in the pool), and that it was doing my body a lot of good. Somehow when things got hard when I write a book, or teach a class, or produce a show I could always find the deep inner joy within the task to get me through - with swimming it was pure gritting teeth sometimes. And that's not to say I don't enjoy it, by choice I would certainly keep it in my exercise regime, but in shorter bursts.

Swimming for me is a skill which I'm glad I can do, it's not like my strengths in writing, acting, teaching and so on - those I've worked on just as hard, if not harder, but they don't exhaust me. We can become so good at skills - or even learning skills - that we get promoted on them, but then realise that we are completely burnt out.

Choose your life path based on strengths not skills alone. You can work at both, you can improve at both, but when things get tough, the strengths will endure.


Obviously - and contrary to the people who encouraged me to give it a go because they love it and wild swimming is part of their DNA, perhaps as writing is to me - I feel an immense relief that it's now out of my hands. I think I'll still aim for a 10k distance some time, most likely in a pool (or maybe back at Willen which is my actual nemesis!) - but, even if this was a step too far for me at this point (and we'll never know now) I couldn't ask more of myself in this moment.

BUT, despite my own feelings of how this played out, I still maintain a "Did Not Start" leaves more questions and fewer opportunities for change, growth and learning, than the more feared "DNF" perhaps it's time to focus on getting to the start line than worrying about the end!

So now, I'm going to unpack, send in my chlorine ridden wedding ring for polishing, and get back in the pool on my own terms.

ETA: Dr Audrey finished her 10k swim in her local pool on Sunday 4th September in a time of 4hrs 20mins (that's 500 x 20m lengths!) She synchronised watches with her friend who encouraged her to sign up in the first instance and he completed 10k at the London Docks in 3hrs 30. #boom #closure

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt

Audrey's current fundraising links are:

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