I used to dread water.*

The size of the body of water mattered little. As a kid, I’d sway at every poolside, my toes wrapping around the lip of the shallow end. Looking at me, you might’ve assumed that I was about to skydive into some cruel, depthless sea. No, the size of the water didn’t matter. Nor did it matter that 60% of my body was—and still is, surprisingly—composed of water.

Before I came to college, I wouldn’t even touch a glass of the stuff, teetotaler that I am. Now that I’m older and those pioneering gray hairs have come in, I can’t help but to unwind after a day of work in the gardens or the office, where I’ve recently been honing a grant proposal, by downing a glass of water. (Maybe even two. Don’t judge.)

My AmeriCorps position has taught me just how mentally and physically exhausted I can be. (That must’ve been what my mom meant when she told me that I had “potential.”) Though they belong to different worlds, gardens and grants both require slow, deliberate work, and I had assumed, as someone from an academic background, that I’d flourish with the grant writing with grace and ego intact.

Instead, I find myself tired and apprehensive. I’m applying for an amount of money that could fill a kiddie pool, at least if you converted it into pennies. For the first time ever, my words can actually impact the lives of real people, a bunch of them at that. And that’s motivating, but it’s also scary, especially when there’s a million emails to send and statistics to be unearthed and deadlines that just leap closer and closer and I think that I might be sinking.

Or I think that when I can spare the extra thought.

When I was twenty, I enrolled in Berea College’s Survival Swimming course, convinced that I’d fail. Even my health conspired against me, and I ended up missing our introduction to the deep end due to a bout with bronchitis. Upon my return, my first task was to slink over to the other end to just bob in that cruel, twelve-foot deep water.

I committed to trying, even if that meant drowning. When I hopped in, I could only think of how well my classmates were doing. The water slipped over my flesh like something sinister, and it was so cold that I could barely leech air into my mouth. As I began to sink, I breathed a little deeper and moved my hands and feet slowly, deliberately.

Somehow, I managed to tread.

*Extended swimming metaphor courtesy of Marcus Plumlee, my fellow VISTA.