Today's Lesson: Lessen the Lessons

"I assure you, madam, I am quite capable of swimming ... my way!" Want to kill a kid’s interest in something he enjoys? Make him take lessons “to get better at it.”

When I was a kid, I liked to swim. My technique was appalling but I could cut through the polluted water at Ideal Beach with no effort at all. And whenever I stepped on a crab, I was a regular Mark Spitz.

But apparently this wasn’t good enough for my mom, who signed up the four of us kids for swim lessons at the Red Bank YMCA.

Everyone who takes swim lessons at the Y starts as a Pollywog before advancing to Minnows, Flying Fish, and then the ultimate achievement—Sharks. Being a Shark in and of itself was pretty cool. But they also got to use the high dive, so you just had to get to Sharks.

First, however, you had to graduate from Pollywogs by demonstrating that you could swim … their way. Apparently, what I was doing did not qualify as swimming, so I got stuck with the five-year-old Pollywogs while my brother and two younger sisters advanced to Minnows. I was 12 years old.

It gets worse.

Before they even let me paddleboard with the other kiddies during free time, I had to demonstrate that I knew how to hold my head underwater without breathing. To do that, they had me bend at the waist with a paddleboard in my outstretched hands, take a breath, put my face in the water, exhale, turn my head to the left to take in a breath and repeat the process 10 times.

I couldn’t do it. For six weeks I couldn’t do it.

Those six weeks passed slowly. I’d watch as nervous new kids—“fish” we called them—entered the pool for their first day of swim lessons. And then, when they learned their lesson, I’d pat them on the back and wish them well as they advanced to Minnows. Sure, I was envious at first. But I knew I was never getting out of that hell hole so—over time—it made me happy to see those little tykes get over the wall, so to speak.

As the summer--and our swim lessons--were coming to a close, I asked my instructor in a final act of desperation if I could turn my head to the right to breathe. “Sure,” she said. “A lot of good it’ll do ya.”

Well, it worked. I could swim—their way. In one day, I graduated from the Pollywogs, blew through Minnows and became a Flying Fish. By the end of the week, I was a Shark.

True story.

But now I hate to swim. And I’m afraid the same thing is happening to people who enjoy telling stories. You can’t swing a life guard’s whistle these days without smacking into some self-described expert who wants to teach you how to tell a story.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you already are a great story teller. Sure, there are ways you can improve your unique technique, as you’ll see in this video*. But when it comes to telling stories, you’re incredible. A regular Mr. Limpet.

* This video originally appeared in our QuASAR Method Video Series.