(Photo by Megan Nelson)
From Barren to Bountiful: Finding Desire in a Season of Drought
By Jehn Kubiak
Summer is the season every aquatics person looks forward to––especially those who work seasonally. Those who are “lifers” (people who will never, ever leave the aquatics industry) know exactly what I’m talking about. All the splashing; the families in the water; the countless boardshort/T-shirt tan lines and sunburns; the friendships you’ll never forget. That’s what makes those long summer days on stand or teaching lessons in the water well worth it.
Changing Career Paths
I became one of those “lifers” last summer (2019) after I lifeguarded full-time from June-September at a summer camp. Before that, I hadn’t worked full-time hours since 2015, when I first lifeguarded at this camp. Instead, I worked at my school pool, plus two other summer camps which staffed us part-time as guards and part-time as counselors or recreation leaders. All that to say, I didn’t realize how much I just could not give up this field until recently.
Aquatics is everything to me, and I can’t imagine my life without it. Although I’m a lifeguard who has pulled people out of deep water off a slide drop zone, aquatics quite literally saved me from my own deep waters in life. I have battled PTSD from a prior job incident for the last two years, and lifeguarding full-time not only last summer, but last fall as well, helped immensely with my recovery because I could get lost in something I love.
Plus, my supervisor last summer taught me all about how to manually balance our 154k gallon pool and navigate the entire pool filtration system. I then realized how much of an “aquatics nerd” I am. Just being by the pool makes me happy, and I’m even happier if I’m watching people having fun or swimming laps as I’m walking around one. That’s what made me change career paths from a magazine editor to an aquatics manager; I wanted to pass that same passion for all things water-related onto other people. And no, my degrees in Journalism and Christian Counseling aren’t a waste; I can most definitely still use those, but that’s a topic for another day.
Surviving a Salty Summer
Back to this summer. I counted down the days until June 1, but after the first day of summer hit (June 20), I counted the remaining days until Labor Day––quite the stark contrast. What happened? I hit an extremely dry patch in my life that made me want to give up aquatics entirely. My best friend, of course, could tell you that it would never happen, but I convinced myself that I was “just done.” Thankfully, I came to my senses later on, but that took a good two months.
During this rough patch, I dropped the ball on a lot of things. Now, I can handle stress and survive rough days. But the majority of my past job experience happened during the month of June that particular year, and it hit unexpectedly very hard this year. So, I became an utter perfectionist in everything I did this summer. Every single swim lesson had to reflect my best teaching; otherwise, I was a failure of a swim instructor. Lo and behold, that was not reality. The mobile swim school I taught for asked me to take on about eight kids under three years old. Since the majority of my teaching experience has involved kids ages 4+, I should’ve known I could only realistically handle about two or three of them.
However, I don’t back down from a challenge, even if I have my reservations about it. Pride is most certainly my downfall. Three weeks later, I dealt with kids who pinched, kicked my ribs, cried every single lesson, and told me “I hate you” in French. I eventually ended up with my head in my hands one day after a lesson and took some deep breaths.
That was just the swim instructor side of things. As a lifeguard, I was even more of a perfectionist since I’ve guarded year-round for five years. Needless to say, I had very high expectations for myself to the point where I deemed myself a failure if my work did not reflect the utmost quality. I’d walk the pool barefoot, under the hot sun, until my feet literally bled from being so calloused and my body started overheating. And if I did something “ditzy,” such as forgetting to tell the kids at a particular pool that they can’t have any kind of flotation devices, I brooded about it the whole 45-minute drive home.
As you may have guessed, I hit a breaking point. While I taught group swim lessons one night, I quite literally shut down. My body shook and felt limp, and I couldn’t talk for about 10 minutes. My coworkers asked if I was okay, and I just sat on the bench with my knees to my chest as I looked at the floor. Eventually, one of the office staff sent me home, and I almost got into a car accident because I was so disoriented from having vertigo. That was when the waterworks broke, and I knew something needed to change. I couldn’t keep letting this self-criticism literally beat me down to the point where I, nor other people, could recognize myself.
The Turning Point Toward Growth
After that night, I decided to take some time off from all my jobs throughout both August and September––rotating times to be fair. Thankfully, August hit, so all the bad memories went away and I could see the state of my life clearly. The reason I hit such a rough patch was because of my self-criticism. I sincerely believed that people hated me when I made mistakes; that I wasn’t cut out for my field of passion if I had so many “hard days.” But I realized that wasn’t true at all. Sure, someone might be momentarily upset with me about something, yet that doesn’t mean they still don’t value my hard work or see my positive character qualities. Yes, I might fail many times, but I may have just as many successes later on––which I’m finding is currently the case.
Now that the summer aquatics season has slowed down and “off-season” is running, I’ve had fewer work hours and more reflection time. During summer, I was unhappy because I’d been out of school for a few months and got all these extra aquatics certifications, yet it seemed like I wasn’t any closer to my dream of becoming an aquatics manager. Today, I know that I have to be patient and just enjoy what I’m doing now; careers take time to build, even for those who have all the necessary head-knowledge. I had to “earn my stars” like everyone else.
On top of that, I realized that God wanted me to go through this rough season so I could get over that spirit of self-criticism. If I hadn’t addressed it now, it would have come out at some point, and I definitely wouldn’t want that to happen when I’m leading a team of lifeguards and swim instructors. That would be unfair to both them and myself. Because of what I went through this summer, I not only learned to love myself, but also how to have compassion for others, especially when they say things that hurt.
Joseph’s Endurance Through Literal and Figurative Famines
With all that said, my summer was as dry as Southern California was this August. In due course, God reminded me that one of the strongest leaders in the Bible actually dealt with both literal and figurative dry periods. His name is Joseph, and he went from being a boy stuck in a ditch to a powerful pharaoh. Before he became a leader of Egypt, Joseph was stuck in prison for a while, despite being an honorable man, and earned his keep there: that was his figurative famine. After his promotion, Joseph dealt with a literal famine, which was probably not what he expected from his leadership role. But Joseph didn’t give up hope, and although he had to look his past right in the face (his family), he didn’t question his qualifications. Genesis 45:4-7 provides a beautiful example of this:
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
Throughout my life, I’ve felt like my story mirrors Joseph’s in many ways, and perhaps that’s why the book of Genesis is one of my favorites. God really spoke to me as I re-read this story because he reminded me that even though I endured some pretty tough and confusing moments this summer, I’m still qualified for my passion. That’s not something I should ever question, despite what my circumstances may communicate in the moment, because he gave me that passion for a reason.
Don’t lose hope when time gets tough. Keep your head up. It’s okay to question God’s process, but the harvest comes to those who wait.
To find out more about Jehn and to pick up her newest book release visit the direct link here.