Running A Small Business Is Like Swimming One Stroke At A Time

lake swimmer reach the shore one stroke at a time

Tackle Ordinary Risk, Build Trust Daily

There was the lake we used to swim around. We were explorers in the wild, navigators scoping out best routes. We drew imaginary mental nations and traveled from one shore to the next as we made our way through foreign, unknown territories. We swam, give or take, about seven hundred meters times four, making it almost two miles in all. It turned into a ritual.

Our nickname for it was Four Corners yet it was anything but square or predictable in its details. It was more like four stations defining a poetic squiggly oblong of land containing a mysterious body of water that yelled out our names like roll call. At each sub-destination we caught our breath for a few moments before moving on to the next stretch. Each of the four stopping points was a singular little refuge.

Gliding Through Easy Times

I loved when it was still and glassy. The calm taught me patience and the relaxing ease that comes with methodic effort. But there were times, especially in the early and late summer or during rains when we were shivery and goose-bumped, the air brisk making the water cold and choppy from wind.

Like the most dramatic time when I felt I was going nowhere slowly because the waves kept pushing me back and to the side. I was laughing gulps of musty lake water but I was a little worried too, a little out of control. Unable to see the others or the spot I was hopefully heading toward because of the pulsing rise of the water.

I wondered, “What if can’t make it? What if I end up in the wrong place, make landfall somewhere odd? What if that adds to the length of the swim? What if the strength of my stroke can’t pull me to the shore at all?” Small panics. A lot of “what if’s”.

Would my swim partners notice I’d lagged behind, turn back and accompany me forward or sideways to safety? Yes. They’d all been lifeguards, competitive swimmers. They were fast and strong.

Floating In Uncertainty. It’s Good To Keep Floating.

I felt like maybe it had been a bad idea. I  also felt like it was the best idea when it was done. I was okay.  I’d kept going. I swam past the fear.  By swimming one stroke at a time. I was laughing without thinking but maybe at the absurdity of having no power to control my body, my direction. When I reached shallow water where I could touch bottom barely getting my balance after a wild ride, it felt like I had been initiated to a new world. I could do this. I did do it. I surprised myself.

Relating It To Everyday Experience

The other night I was reminded of those swims. In particular, I recalled what it was like out in the middle, the blackness facing down, my belly exposed, I was vulnerable. It was deep and dark. Out there, in the middle of the lake with only the power of my body to get me to shore it seemed utterly bottomless. I needed to disallow thoughts of fish and unknowns. Weeds and strangers that might either bite or startle me out of my methodical zone. I needed to move away from thoughts of fatigue.

Trust & Risk

There was an aspect to this that was undeniably scary each time we set out. But I grew to love the adventure. The risky quality of it even though, barring the possibility of drowning, it was within reasonable and generally safe bounds. Over time, I experienced a growing trust. Trust in the substance I was in (water), trust in my own ability, trust in the people I swam away from the shore with. Then there was the wonderful naturally accumulating trust from repeating the experience over and over.

I became the water. The water became me. Click To Tweet

The recurrent strokes, one arm after the other, breathing rhythms side to side, rolling through the watery substance of resistance, encouraging it to bend in its structure to join mine. We became companions instead of adversaries.

The goal was to eliminate that watery push against my body and glide through it as quickly and efficiently as possible. My form was inspired by my fellow explorers and by the Total Immersion swim techniques I practiced year-round in a pool. I was swimming with experts and eventually, although I wouldn’t reach their speed, I was close to equally skilled and capable. I could trust that.

Total Immersion treats swimming with a similar approach to many martial arts, with an emphasis on mindful practice in the spirit of yoga or t’ai chi. Whether the swimmer’s primary goal is exercise, relaxation, endurance, or competition, the aim is to develop awareness of your body’s movements within and interactions with the water.

In the early seasons of these swims, I had yet to discover yoga, but once I had, I understood the connection and realized how my body informed other things in my life and in my work.

Like running a business one stroke at a time.

What To Do Every Day While On Land.
How To Find The Balance Of Risk And Trust.

We teach and guide each other.

In work, it sometimes feels like we’re slinging darts of information and confusion toward our clients. Click To Tweet

We are in a landscape that involves concepts, methods and technology not typically encountered by people who aren’t regularly engaged in the ordinary tasks of what we do. For us, they are part and parcel of the territory. It’s simply that our clients haven’t encountered them before. By others they may be regarded as deep, dark, risky water. At times, I sense that it feels like extraordinary risk to them instead of just ordinary. We tread carefully to dispel that.

There’s A Need To Dive In.

It’s not uncommon to clam up and worry. Fearful inner responses to the environment can take over when given the leeway. Due the variety of opportunities we have traversing ins and outs as we push forward day to day it’s just not that surprising. There are times when questions aren’t easily answered. Others when a flurry of incomprehension or lack of knowledge strikes. Or the best path forward, the one with the least resistance toward a desired result escapes our perception.

We experience hesitation and doubt. We may need to tread water for a moment. Take a pause. Click To Tweet

Find that little refuge like the ones in our swim, until breath catches up.

Some Things I Learned In The Water That Help At Work Every Day.


1.     The shore looks like it’s far away.

Relaxing into our power and finding a sustainable rhythm helps us get there. Finding the most efficient use of our resources makes reaching the goal that much easier and more likely. Each stroke adds to the motion that takes us closer, one at a time.

2.     Sometimes it feels like there is no air left in the world.

It’s a matter of regulation. It’s not that the air diminishes. It’s in the timing and again, rhythm. Learning how to breathe properly and matching it to the activity is helpful. If we’re trying to consume air too quickly, greedily, it will be harder to use. Measuring our intake and out-take and balancing it within a structure will help ensure the proper amounts are taken in when needed and discarded when no longer serving a purpose, creating less waste and worry.

3.     Each thing we do helps the other things we do.

It’s Possible to Apply This to Running A Small Business

What does this have to do with how you can develop an approach that will carry you forward into your business day?

  • Defining a goal
  • Learning to trust your process
  • A more accurate assessment of your circumstances
  • Discipline to build strength
  • Understanding your long-game
  • Ability to work with fear and panic



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Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash


  • author's avatar

    By: Gina Fiedel

    Gina Fiedel is the co-founder/owner of Fat Eyes Web Development. After a successful career as an artist and transitioning into electronic media in the early 90’s, she then founded Fat Eyes in 1998 to bring those skills to the web with her husband, Doug Anderson. Being engaged in business has created gratifying opportunities for communication and new inroads towards making a contribution that counts. You can learn more about Gina on the Fat Eyes Who Are We? page and Gina Fiedel Story.

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