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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Suit Up! The benefits of a good team can surpass any goal

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

After every fundraising event this year, I write a reflection on my growth as a person. This weekend I was part of a team of 8 doing a 24hr open water swim relay - a true test of endurance with 3 swims each...and a mixed ability team with 3 of us having started "swimming seriously" only 6 months before, and 4 of us trying Open Water a month prior! BUT we did it with finesse and really uplifting camaraderie, good humour and support. The whole event has so far raised over £80k for Level Water who provide swimming lessons for disabled children.

To hear Mark Fox the organiser speak on NLive Radio:

STEVE: You got a suit?


STEVE: Then suit up

[The explosion is massive.


- CAPTAIN AMERICA pulls on his shield and helmet

Tony welds his IRON MAN helmet

BLACK WIDOW attaches a glove gauntlet with her rounds on her wrist

HAWKEYE slips on is quiver of arrows.]

(Avengers Assemble, Transcript)

I love dressing up, I even go further than that because I also love producing shows where I can become someone completely different - part of a life, a group, a team that works (because it's scripted to). However, this is short term, and at some point you return to your every-day life and, in my case, think about the next time I get to "shine" part of the next show.

Yet something strange happened Sunday morning.

As I walked to the site carrying my wetsuit bag, my hair tied in a plait to fit under my swimming cap, and knowing that whatever else went down I'd be taking on a back to back swim as my contribution...I felt like the characters I'd been wanting to play all my life. Part of a team, equal, included, invited, trusted to do their job, and do it well in an arena where I was out of my comfort zone, but I'd promised to do it, and I was going to show up. However, this time it was REAL.

Not only did I get through, but I surpassed my own expectations - and in fact so did everyone on the team.

Suiting up

So, apart from the fact that getting into a wetsuit is probably the hardest part of any open water challenge, what have I learned through this experience with "Team Tropical Fish":

1. Everyone has their own "demons" even if they display them in similar anxious ways

"Well I might be s*it..."

We had a mixed ability team, and it's quite easy for some of the less experienced swimmers to feel a little overwhelmed when the ones who've been swimming for years worry about whether they will get through themselves.

BUT we're all judging ourselves by our own yardstick - and ultimately, we probably all kick up so much of a fuss because we don't want to let the team, or ourselves, down (whatever standard we're going by). For me it was, I didn't want to have to use my float as a rubber ring too much (I did that once over the course of the 3 swims, and it was at the start of my first one) - because ultimately I would let myself down, and perhaps the team (although there was NO pressure); and for the Team Captain it was the first time he'd been in Open Water at night for that length of time since having a stroke in 2019 (and he knew that prior to that this sort of thing would have been fine...but what if he couldn't trust himself).

Similarly for some of the other more experienced, they hadn't had time to train - and Open Water DOES need a little exposure for the simple fact the body responds to it - as well as to practice; and for the others like me - well, we just didn't know! And when everyone voices "I might be s*it", it's easy too think of the experienced - if you're "s*it" what am I going to be!?

The truthful answer we all dread is - not as high as my expectations of myself.

SO something I've learned is, while expression of fear is often similar, we need to remember the context, the yardstick, and that we're only ever judging ourselves against our experience! AND that when we do say something like "I might be terrible you know" - what we're really saying is - I can't predict what will happen and I don't want to let you or myself down... AND I see now that actually what voicing self doubt can speak to (because no matter what, we were still going out there) is how fundamentally sweet everyone on the team was (is). "I don't want to let you or myself down."

2. Related to the above - the "achievement" is secondary

What really came through over the weekend was the enjoyment of doing something together. One of the team - through his own unprompted kindness - inspired us all to sponsor each other, and another who had spent more on some of the equipment refused the kitty instead asking us to donate to the cause. And everyone was there for each other, whether it was taking photos (yes we really DO all look like wet seals!), giving lifts, packing & unpacking, cooking, bringing drinks across to the changeover line and taking shoes back, being there to see each other off and welcome each other back to shore and even taking on a tougher swim shift when the start was pushed back meaning the carefully constructed rota needed to be re-worked.

Actually if anyone had struggled (they didn't), it wouldn't have mattered - we had each others' backs...and that felt great. As one person observed "In a team of 8, the fact ALL of us agreed from the start and are all here with no changes or replacements is pretty amazing alone!"

...and I think being a part of this is what I'm most proud of #goteamTropicalFish

3. "You can tell the measure of a man by his friends" (Spanish Proverb)

This was a "constructed" team - and strange in that no-one knew everyone in it. Although the Team Captain knew 7 of 8 as he had recruited people he knew from work, as well as socially - I had invited my husband to complete the group. But after the initial handshakes and (in my case getting everyone's name right...I was in contact lenses for the first time in least that's my excuse), the banter flowed as easily as the lake...and some rather delicious chocolate milk.

Meeting new people can be tricky, we're all anxious and we're all hoping to be judged favourably - consciously or not - but one thing I could count on, was that generally, if you like someone, their friends - especially those they (we) introduce to others - (and let's remember we choose our friends and work at our friendships) are likely to be awesome too (beneath any initial nerves about making a favourable impression!)

4. The pain of endurance is different to the pain of a sprint

I'm very much of a "sprint mentality" - I can take quite a high level of pressure as long as it's for a short amount of time or that time is controllable...otherwise if I'm generally uncomfortable, I begin asking myself "do I really want this". To use my own coaching tools as an example - when I've passed the comfort zone into the "stretch zone" - if the next level doesn't arrive quickly (ie. so I can be "comfortable" again), I do question how long to stay there. The swim training I'm doing at the moment is leading up to endurance (4 hrs of it to do the Dart 10k also known as the "Swimmer's marathon" that came about is another story and one for after that event), and realistically, I still don't know what the outcome will be.

However, what I found with swimming was that there came a point when I could swim more competently than before, but with sessions needing to get longer and having to push myself a little harder (and then adding to that a wetsuit and open water on occasion) - I wasn't comfortable. I questioned whether I was doing the right thing to press on...especially as I didn't - and still don't - know how much more I have to give.

In the end, I bought a refurb swim watch to track my stats, signed up with the gym to have a workout designed around swim practice, took a series of open water coaching with the fabulous Ben Brophy, and have re-arranged my timetable for the next couple of months so I can dedicate some pool hours...and whatever happens at the Dart10k, at the very least for now I'm extremely proud of clocking up around 6k over 3 swims this weekend.

This thought process transferred into my work as well. On a couple of occasions recently I have had cause to think - if I continue with this it'll be hard work and no guarantee of a great outcome (although I will always aim for one)...and no-one would think less of me if I didn't follow through...but, and I think it was realising that if I wanted to elevate anything about myself I was going to have to learn to be uncomfortable for longer than I'd like with no guarantees the other end, I'm sticking with those things too, and so far it seems to be working out.

5. Be grateful when you have someone who sees your potential before you do

I wouldn't have even considered anything like this had my friend - also the Team Captain, not seen my potential before I could. And even then I'm not sure he saw my swimming potential, but rather that I was going to at least put the work in...or maybe he just thought I'd be loopy enough to agree to it. Even when I said that the only time I swam was on holiday in Malaysia he said "no problem"...and the next thing I knew was the team was called "The Tropical Fish". It really was only on this Saturday, when I was backed up by my husband did he actually believe that I really can't breaststroke...I can't do anything except crawl (and doggie paddling while holding onto my tow float which I was doing a lot of right up until the Wednesday before!) BUT nonetheless, if he hadn't seen potential I would have spent another year in my comfort zone, not losing anything, but certainly failing to gain what was a hugely validating, exciting and elevating experience.

I'm now someone who can do that, and who has done that...and that's fab...and thanks to the Team.

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


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