Back in the day, I was an athlete, believe it or not, every spare moment I had was spent training and trying to become a professional soccer player. I came close to a professional contract when I was 19 but things didn’t pan out. I was pretty intense back then and had trouble separating my aggressive desire for success from my emotions. That is my sugar-coating anger management or a lack of emotional control, whatever you want to call it.
I was the kind of person to yell at myself, my teammates, lose control and just have ample aggression towards those who probably didn’t deserve it. It’s partly hunger and drive for success and partly a lack of maturity and control
You may be thinking what this has to do with my last week on the road. Well, it was a telling week for me in that it’s been 3.5 years since I officially hung up the boots. Over those three years, my competitive nature has remained but in a much more quiet, measured fashion. I no longer have to win everything. I’ve become less and less aggressive in emotional situations and am not perfect but I am much better at controlling my emotions in the heat of the moment.
This week I did a free-diving course in Siargao, Philippines. It was a 1.5-day course, spread out over three days with PADI at Palaka Dive Resort. The course was a collaboration between myself and PADI to promote the dive center and the free-dive course. I’d done a bit of free-diving before but never properly, just me and a mate duck-diving down to 10-meters or so and messing around. It was more deep-snorkeling than free-diving I would say. I was keen to learn the basics, safety and breathing techniques to help me free-dive comfortably to new depths.
The course started off with half a day of theory with a test at the end. Josh and I learned a lot and passed the little test at the end, which led us into day two. Now we learned some breathing techniques and practiced our static breath hold out of the water. We then took our skills into the pool and did our static breath-hold test. Josh and I both had breath-holds of more than 3-minutes, which was more than the required 1.5-minute for our course. We completed the safety drills and set ourselves up for a final day out on the ocean.
We headed out on a boat the next day to some deep open-water and jumped in with our wetsuits, weight belt, and a buoy. Jake, our instructor, dropped down the 10m line and Josh cruised down no problems. It only takes about 30-45 seconds to go up and down so the breath-hold is not long at all.
It was my turn now and as I duck-dived and went head-first down the line, I couldn’t really equalize. I had to come up after 4-5 meters. I was a bit embarrassed as this was a test and essentially I was failing. Josh went again and had no problems so he was passing and getting his certification. I again headed down but couldn’t equalize again.
I was now getting quite frustrated but was trying to remain calm and think it through. We were just bobbing on the surface chatting about it and trying to figure out what was wrong. I could equalize on the surface and I even tried equalizing at the same depth when I had turned back up on my last dive with no problems. So, we figured out that I couldn’t equalize while upside down. It turns out 1/4 of the population has the same issue.
Normally when I had been free-diving, I’d been going down on a 45-degree angle but now when I was required to descend directly down, head-first, my equalization was failing me due to a narrow Eustachian tube in my ears.
Three days of effort and a lot of emotional build-ups and there I was bobbing up and down on the surface of the ocean. I wasn’t out of breath, struggling with breath-hold, or distressed. I just couldn’t equalize. That was stopping me from reaching my goal. It was frustrating. I just told myself, control what you can and accept the outcome. If you are or were hyper-competitive like me this is the number on the situation for the frustrated person to have an implosion.
Jake and I chatted about it and he was actually really helpful in keeping the whole situation quite calm. We chatted it out and decided to see if I could go down to 10m but go feet-first. I thought it would be a great test to see if it was the depth, my breath-hold or truly just being upside down. We went down, very calmly and reached the 10m marker. I hung out there for 20 seconds or so just to prove to myself and Jake that my breath-hold wasn’t the issue and then calmly rose back up to the surface. So I passed the test also but facing the wrong way. Therefore I failed. I was okay with it.
Despite not receiving my freediver certification, I actually took a lot of skills away from the course relating to free-diving and will be able to relax at 10m, take photos and explore, which was my focus anyway. However, I also really enjoyed my improved ability to handle stress when dealing with competition, even when it is purely with myself. To be able to remove your emotions from the situation and make a smart evaluation of how to proceed is just so invaluable in decision-making ability in high-stress situations.
So, it was a failure that brought with it a lot of lessons, ones that I may not have learned had I achieved instant success. Have you had a similar situation? Let me know in the comments below.
To view my 10m upright dive you can check out the video below.
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