The end of another school year is quickly approaching and that means the students of another graduating class are about to embark on a new phase in their lives. As a former high school teacher I was often required to speak at this special occasion. It was always a challenge to offer these young people a new perspective on a message that had been repeated many times over the years.
Whenever I did have the opportunity to address a graduating class, I always found that telling an inspiring story seemed to resonate much better with students than offering mere platitudes. One of my favourite examples was that of a young woman who challenged herself to complete a difficult task.
Florence Chadwick had already completed a swim of the English Channel, but she wanted to become the first woman to swim from Catalina Island to the coast of California. It was July 4, 1952, when she set out to accomplish this difficult goal. The swim posed many difficulties for Florence –the water was ice-cold, a dense fog had rolled in, sharks cruised around her and had to be driven away by rifle shots, and jellyfish stings were a constant threat. Still, despite all these deterrents, and with the encouragement of her mother and her coach, she swam on.
Then after being in the water for nearly 16 hours and with her destination a mere half mile away, Florence quit swimming and asked to be pulled from the water. No amount of persuading could convince her to carry on, and so, with her goal so close at hand, the race was over and her dream ended.
Later, speaking to reporters (as this event had been widely publicized and televised), Florence explained that it was not tiredness or fear that had made her give up the swim – it had been the fog. The dense fog had prevented her from seeing her destination, and with her goal no longer in sight, she had lost her way and decided to quit.
What a lesson for all of us about keeping our goals, whether simple or grand, manageable or difficult, immediate or long-term, within our vision.
But the story does have a happy ending. A few months later Florence tried again under very much the same circumstances, but this time she carried a mental image of her goal and destination in her mind. Florence Chadwick not only became the first woman to swim the Catalina Strait but also beat the men’s record by 2 hours!