Putting in the Work

August 1, 2012

I’m bobbing up and down in the deep end at swim class, waiting for the instructor to give some feedback on my finally-corrected-after-being-taught-wrong-as-a-child breaststroke. I am also waiting for “Joe” and “Bob,” my advanced swimming classmates, to make their way down the 25 meters of the pool.

Bob gets there first. He and I move to the far corners of the lane to let Joe come in. Joe’s a little bit of a messy swimmer, and we generally have to steer clear. Bob is faster at dodging Joe than I am, but I do manage to escape Joe’s kick by popping briefly into the next lane.

After Joe grabs the wall, our instructor “Emily” tells me that I’ve greatly improved my kick. This makes me very happy–I’ve been working on it every time I’ve hit the pool in the past three weeks, un-learning bad habits. I’ve put in the work, and it’s showing.

“Yeah, you’ve got a great breaststroke kick!” Joe says. “It’s really turning into your stroke! You’re such a natural.”

I am not a natural, and I know it. What I do know is that I’ve been in the pool three times a week for the past month, and I keep at it. Even though Joe tends to get on my nerves, I shrug off his compliment.

“I just practice a lot. I teach, so I have time off during the summer.”

“I really need practice on it. Emily, is this how you do it?” Joe doesn’t wait for me to move around him, or get out of the way. I feel his foot slam into my calf, and my muscle quivers, then spasms. Tears well in my eyes, and I grab my leg, while trying to get over to the wall. I can’t tread water with my leg like this. I can’t swim. I can’t think of anything but the pain in my calf.

The instructor asks if I’m all right. I say no, clutching the wall with one hand and trying to massage the spasm out of my leg with the other. We have to wait a few minutes before I can continue.

But I do.

Moral of the story: Sometimes, even when you’ve put in the work, someone may still come along and kick you really hard. And when that happens, you just have to keep going.

You can’t–or at least I can’t–do things based on an expectation everything turning out right all the time. I certainly put in the work for my dissertation, for example, and I couldn’t have known the economy would crash the week I graduated and all the jobs would disappear. But I did the work, and that’s what’s important. I wrote a YA manuscript, which may or may not ever “do” anything, but I put in the work (Though you have no idea how much it bugs me that Twilight fan fic is now getting major deals. I mean, seriously???). And now, I’ve been working on my academic book, and I have no idea if it will get me a tenure-track job. But I am doing the work, and putting in the effort. And that means that even if I don’t get what I want, I have accomplished something.

But I really, really hope that no one kicks me at my next academic conference.


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