jumping into pools (or, my fear of new experiences)

Several years ago, in the summer after my second year of college, I told my friend that I’d never jumped into a pool. Not once, not ever.

We were at the pool outside our condo in Palm Springs, California, which sounds much more glamorous than the reality. We were unpaid interns at the city newspaper. I took out a personal loan to finance the three months I lived there. From June to August, the place was dead: The seasonal residents had gone north for the summer. It was 115 degrees the weekend we arrived; it would hit 120 several weeks later.

That summer is a blur. I quickly realized I hated news reporting, I turned 20, I had a panic attack outside a film festival where I interviewed various actors and filmmakers. We took trips to San Diego and Los Angeles and San Francisco, driving up Highway 1 and blasting Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City as we cruised through Santa Barbara. Wendy Davis did her famous filibuster, and we cried at the live broadcast in our living room. My friend got her purse stolen while on assignment. My other friend got bad news about her dad’s cancer diagnosis. I spent most of my free days and nights curled up in bed, hiding from the desert sun, watching New Girl on my laptop, or crying. In the airport on my way back home to Louisiana, I broke down because my suitcase was massively overweight and I had no money left to pay the airline fee.

It was a miserable summer. I don’t regret it.

In 2013, that internship was the bravest thing I’d ever done. I didn’t know it at the time, but I have a lifelong history of only taking risks if I think I’ll succeed. My California summer was the first time I had truly jumped headfirst into something foreign. I had no idea whether I’d do well or make it for two months without running out of money, or how I would deal with living in an unfamiliar environment for the first time.

When I told my friend about my lack of pool-jumping experience, I didn’t realize how strange it was, nor did I understand the full implications. We had only been friends for a few months, but they already saw my risk-aversion more clearly than I did — in my romantic relationships, my lifestyle choices, my hobbies. I was stunted, and it was no one’s fault but my own. “Jump in the pool, Erin!” that friend has said to me, metaphorically, several times in the years between then and now.

California was the catalyst for the changes I’d make over the next six years. Slowly but surely, I got braver and bolder. Each time I faced something that scared me, I pictured myself standing on the edge of the pool, looking down at the water, panicking at the thought of stepping off the ledge and inhaling chlorine. It might be uncomfortable, but what if it’s also really, really fun?

I’m still learning how to talk myself into new things that feel scary. Pitching a passion project for work? Done. Riding a bike in the city? Conquered. Applying for a job I wanted, even if I felt unsure of my qualifications? It didn’t work out the way I wanted, but I’m OK. Singing karaoke? Let me work up to it, please!

My life got brighter after that summer I turned 20, broke and unhappy, partly thanks to that poolside conversation. I’m hoping this blog will, in part, be a place where I document attempting the new things, small or large, that scare me. Maybe I’ll even jump into a real pool one day.

P.S. That friend who lit a fire under my ass is now a New York Times bestselling author. Go buy her book.