Ever been subjected to a good submergence in “The Deep End”?
In a job perhaps? A boss who thought it would be “good for you” or “character-building” to throw you in to see how you would cope with something way beyond your capacity zone. This doesn’t just happen at work and it’s not always done with malice.
Sink or Swim
It’s often underpinned by the best of intentions. Someone who believes learning only comes from doing and not watching. They take this to its logical conclusion; jumping in at the deep end of any new situation or experience. Learning as they go, and finding their way through the overwhelm and ignorance.
I’ve met some people who believe this is a catchall recipe. The only real way to learn..for all of us. So they push others in too without much explanation.
For some of those “others” (me included) this actually has the potential to do (almost) irreparable damage.
As you move through life you will get a sense of whether or not you are a deep end sort of person.
The Deep End: Choosing vs Being Pushed
Throwing someone in at the deep end and watching them “succeed” might feel good for the thrower. It might make them feel powerful. It might even appear to work as the throwee emerges having somehow survived and having learned the ropes at breakneck speed.
We all have survival instincts that kick in pretty strongly when fear strikes and we are in deep water. We will do all we possibly can to do whatever we need to do to get out. This might look very much like the thrower’s methods have succeeded. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The way we naturally learn may well feel like “the only way” or the “best way”. However, we are all very different. What may work for one person might be an absolute nightmare for another.
More introverted and deeply stimulated people often need time to acclimatise and adapt to new and novel situations. To move from shallow waters into the deep, learning, observing and experimenting as we go. If we are going to thrive and bring the best of ourselves to the situation, then we ideally need opportunity to ease into things.
Watching From the Sidelines
We usually need time to move through and understand where we are, how things work, and what we need to do to succeed at it.
This is why you won’t find many introverts or HSPs on the front row (if we buy the tickets) at a comedy gig or show where there is any risk of audience participation. There are very few more stimulating situations than being thrust into the spotlight and asked to do something without warning.
This is also why group brain-storming sessions or meetings without a pre-disclosed agenda/itinerary isn’t usually the way to get the best from introverts and HSPs.
These are deep ends where we foolishly flail around in a desperate attempt to reach the safety of the pool side, feeling knackered and embarrassed about the whole ordeal.
There can also be a difference between diving in at the deep end, and being pushed in by someone else.
When I was a teenager my drum teacher (a fantastic guy I might add) played in a “scratch orchestra”. Members would come from all over the UK, meet the night before a concert, stay over on site, practice all day and then do the performance the following evening.
I received a phone call from him one evening saying that he was unable to play a concert next weekend. He asked if I could stand in for him as the percussion section. I said “yes” because it was an incredible compliment (and I could never say “no” to anything).
But as the hours passed sheer panic began to set in. I had never played in orchestras. I also found sight reading stressful and draining (much more of a creative improvising musician). Oh and then the small matter of going somewhere I’d never been, with people I didn’t know, and staying over for two nights.
Was this the sort of deep end I could cope with?
Turns out no. Well, I don’t think so anyway. I reached critical point where I had to call him back and say I couldn’t do it. Phew.
The idea of success happening in one sudden burst is overwhelming and off-putting to me. It’s why I’ve never pursued it. This has certainly led to missed opportunities and my taking a foot off the accelerator when really I wish I’d gone for it and moved with the momentum I had behind me. I’ve talked many times about the fear of success, which is intrinsically linked here.
But I always come back to the truth that matters for me; that success is a long game. It is built piece by piece, by keeping true, maintaining integrity and moving with purpose and vision in the right direction.
We experience “breakthroughs” as we chip away over time in the right areas. Like learning to swim in a calm and measured way. You persevere and practice in the shallow end. Getting the hang of how it feels and what we need to do to make it work. Then suddenly things might click and the breakthrough comes.
Unlike being thrown in the deep end where you don’t know how to swim you just do it to survive, when you truly learn, you do so because you understand it and know why it matters.
Frames of Reference and Personal Constructs
Most things that I might consider my own personal breakthrough’s are the result of incremental change over time. Joining dots, step by step. Not full immersion deep end stuff. Many introverts and HSPs are the same.
This is not to say that progress has to take a long time, but rather that it has to happen in the right way. By linking the chain together within the context of past experience and already existing frames of reference.
Like stepping stones. You can’t cross the river in one go, but you can get there one stone at a time. And it looks a lot more manageable when you are only focussed on the next stone.
Second Time Around
Take air travel for example. If you have ever been on a plane then you’ll probably remember the first time you travelled. A completely novel and overwhelming experience. From getting to the airport, to navigating through it to the right place, moving through the checkpoints and getting where you need to go.
The next time you do it you know what to expect, how long it takes, and you begin developing your own routines. Over time it gets easier and easier. The seasoned traveller doesn’t even give it a second thought. It’s the same with almost anything. Aspects that feel overwhelming first time, become water off a duck’s back before long.
Same Construct, Different Context
You can use other experiences to make sense of novel experiences. You don’t go back to step one when you go to an airport you’ve never been to before. Know what you need to do, you navigate the situation within a frame of reference developed through past experiences. You might find yourself in deeper waters but at least now you know how to swim.
How do we get there? It’s all well and good saying we develop personal constructs that help us swim in deep waters, but how do we move through the shallows in a way that suits us?
A couple of suggestions…
Do it with someone else first. If you’ve never flown before then going alone on your first time could be exceedingly overwhelming. Build up frames of reference with other people you trust. Have some fun building frames of reference, going to new places together to see how things work. Then if you need to do stuff on your own you’ll have a good mental framework to function from.
Identify the biggest sources of anxiety. For me it with the scratch orchestra it was all quite anxiety provoking: staying somewhere strange, not knowing anyone, having no confidence in my own abilities (this was not just self-doubt, it was genuine) etc.
But if there are one or two aspects that you can bring into your own control and comfort zone then find them. For example, booking a hotel room so that you know where you’re staying, will be able to get away and have some control over your time.
Spend time reflecting on whether it would be necessary to be fully in the deep end, or whether you can find some areas of redemption to stay grounded and energised.
Over to You
How do you react when you’re thrown in the deep end? Do you find it helpful or does it make you want to run away as fast as possible and avoid things in the future? Please leave your response in the comments below.