I am a swimmer. I spend hours at the pool each week swimming laps like a polar bear in a zoo, back and forth and back and forth. I don’t think much about my stroke or even my breathing anymore, much less whether I can stay afloat. It’s easy when we get good at something—whether it's a hobby or a job—to stop thinking about it and just do it.
A few weeks ago I was swimming late in the evening and noticed a couple I had never seen before sitting on a bench near the pool. The woman seemed to be impatiently waiting for something, asking each person who left the pool if they were done. Because she seemed distressed, I was concerned, and started paying close attention to her, not sure what was going to happen next.
After the pool cleared out, she and her companion entered the shallow end of the pool. What I saw unfold made me smile and reminded me that becoming good at something is a process, and what seems simple now wasn’t always so. She was anxious about getting in the pool because she was learning how to swim. With each lap I swam, I could hear her companion coach her on the fine points of just floating without sinking.
A bit later, I saw her try to use a kickboard to swim forward, but she wasn’t going anywhere and was only getting frustrated. She was following her companion’s instructions exactly, but it wasn’t working. Finally, he said something that stuck, one simple adjustment that made all the difference: He told her not to bend her knees. She immediately started moving forward.
A day will come when she won’t remember that bit of wisdom that changed her frustration to enthusiasm. Not bending her knees will be the norm, and she won’t even think about it, just like I never think about it when I swim. That applies to our careers as well—it’s easy to fall into the trap of not valuing our own skills. What seems natural now required a lot of learning, a lot of effort, and the effort we invested is what makes us valuable to an employer. A great resume goes beyond a list of your previous experience; it speaks to the skills that you learned along the way.
We are good at what we do because we’ve worked hard to be that way, and that hard work is what makes it feel easy now. At one time, we were all just treading water, struggling to learn how to move forward.