What I Learned From Swimming With Sharks

I have written numerous pieces the past few years about how our active team of grant writer’s balance our work and deadline-related stress with exercise and movement including setting fitness goals as a team and building custom treadmill desks for our offices as part of our quest to move. We have all found that incorporating ways to move during the day is critical not only for individual health, but also as a way to keep our creativity flowing as writers. It is a win all around.

I will now admit, what I have often discounted though over the past ten years in business (Side note: Ten years, wow, I know! Where did the time go?! Stay tuned for more on this milestone next week!) is the importance of time away from the office, the laptop, the cell phone, and the constant pressure of grant deadlines.

I surprised my entire family, all my friends, and my team (in all fairness, myself as well!) by taking a truly unplugged vacation with my spouse earlier this month. We had an amazing time escaping the cold winter air and the first significant snow falls in the 1000 Islands and instead enjoying sunshine and warm temperatures. At first I felt a bit twitchy without my cell phone with me all the time. I missed the constant ding of notifications via HootSuite, Twitter, Instagram and Gmail, but after the first day the anxious feeling that I was missing out faded away. I began to daydream and brainstorm great new ideas for 2016 as I watched fish swim through the reef, fisherman take their small rowboats out each day, and pelicans hunt in the early light of sunrise. As much as I have relied on my treadmill desk and my weekly outdoor running workouts to fuel my creativity for work, my creativity was still confined by the daily to do list. Being unplugged in such a peaceful setting let my creativity roam free.

As our vacation neared its end, we found ourselves at the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve where manta rays and nurse sharks frequently come to the reef. I will admit, as panicked as I had felt when staring at a moon jellyfish five feet away in the water at various points snorkeling during the vacation, the idea of the sharks on the reef scared me in a way similar to that felt by the tiny reef fish in the Disney children’s movie Finding Nemo. As my five companions all eased into the water, Go Pros on and at the ready, the manta rays glided through the water below them in the shallow water. As I sat on the edge of the small boat, flippers on and mask on top of my head contemplating if I could really get in the water, I realized that I was about to let fear rule how I was living my creative life as Elizabeth Gilbert outlines in Big Magic.

I took a deep breath, and I slid into the water as well. As I stared down at the manta rays gracefully moving through the water a friend motioned to me that 3 nurse sharks were approaching us. With a silent squeal I watched them swim toward us and then around the large coral head we were floating over with a confidence yet grace that was awe inspiring. I watched the sneaky barracuda that had been watching us from the edge of the reef respect their space. I watched how the manta rays adapted their paths yet without fear. I watched the blue tangs and parrot fish dart back into the coral. I was motionless until well after they were out of sight.

As I sat in the boat after our excursion ended, I sat in disbelief. My daughters wouldn’t believe me if it weren’t for the Go Pro footage – I had swam in the wild, on a reef, with sharks! As I reflected later that day and on the plane flight home I realized how meaningful the experience was to me. I learned to challenge my boundaries, personally and professionally. I learned to embrace living a creative life. I learned to seek out unplugged moments whether at home in the 1000 Islands or on an amazing adventure somewhere else on the globe. I learned to swim with confidence yet grace in taking care of  myself in order to better take care of my family, friends, team and clients. I can’t wait for the next unplugged adventure to see what new creative boundaries I push and what new brainstorms I have. I don’t know where or when it will be. But I do know for certain I won’t let it be another ten years before I seize the opportunity. My creativity depends on it.


I would love to hear what experiences have helped you think differently about how you approach your work and your willingness to occasionally unplug from the daily tasks and deadlines.


    1. Diane H. Leonard, GPC February 3, 2016at9:46 pm

      Thanks again for hosting the January Nonprofit Blog Carnival, Beth! So many wonderful posts to read, enjoy and learn from. -Diane


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