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The Bottom of the Pool: Thinking Beyond Your Boundaries to Achieve Extraordinary Results
by Andy Andrews
Learn More | Meet Andy Andrews
When I was a kid, my parents would drop me off at the pool during the summer. This must’ve been an excellent childcare method because most of my friends’ parents did the same thing. Day after day, all summer long, we never seemed to tire of being “at the pool.” Though we were almost always in the pool, for some reason, that is how we referred to being there.
“Where were you yesterday?”
“At the pool.”
We played Marco Polo, horse and rider, water football, atomic whirlpool, watermelon push, and blue rover—which was just like red rover except that it was in the water. Back then, of course, all swimming pools were treated with vast amounts of chlorine. By the middle of July, if a blond kid didn’t have a lime-green tint to his hair, it was obvious to everyone he hadn’t spent much time at the pool.
Another thing would happen about the middle of July. We would become somewhat bored with much of what we had been doing and begin to invent our own games.
One year we created a contest we called “Dolphin.” At the time, everyone loved the television show Flipper, which was about a dolphin who was involved in one adventure after another. (Think Lassie in a wet suit.) The human stars of the show were Bud and Sandy, the sons of a park ranger in Coral Key National Park.
There was no one our age who didn’t watch the show, and all of us were amazed at how Flipper could lift straight up out of the water and “walk” on his tail.
So that was our game.
We’d all form a big circle in the deep end of the pool, everyone treading water. One at a time, we would take turns being the dolphin. Each person in turn swam to the center of the circle. The object of the game was to use your arms, legs, hands, and feet to lift your torso out of the water as high as you could.
No one ever got as much air as Aaron Perry. He was older than most of us by a year and almost a head taller. Believe me when I say that it was tough to compete against his big feet. And his hands . . . Oh my gosh, his hands! No child has ever had hands that big. I’m telling you, the kid could palm a basketball in the third grade!
Aaron’s physical structure was a decided advantage in the pool. When Aaron flapped his massive feet and waved those catcher’s mitts he called hands to push against the water, the kid would rise above the pool’s surface like Flipper himself. Or at least like Flipper’s human cousin.
It was the summer after our fourth-grade year, and most of us were eleven years old. Aaron, obviously, was twelve. He told us quite often that he was better than we were at everything. Unfortunately, we were convinced he was right. It was depressing.
At Dolphin, particularly, Aaron was the best. He always won. Always. His winning streak (which, of course, began with the invention of the game) was unprecedented. Undefeated, untied, unrivaled, and in a water-treading circle of fourth-going-on-fifth-graders, unapproachable. He was unapologetically unbelievable. And he knew it. Aaron was the king of Dolphin!
Until the day Kevin Perkins beat him by a foot and a half.
I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. There were about ten of us in the deep end. We were in a loose circle, each taking our turn and watching closely as everyone else took theirs. We were not only competitors; we rotated our responsibility as judges. All of us had equal say, but despite trying to be fair, disagreements were routine.
That day, I’d already taken my turn. So, too, had Aaron and everyone else except for Kevin Perkins, my best friend. As Kevin swam to the center of the circle, several of the kids called out, “Hurry up. Do it. Get it over with.”
Two of our group—Roger Luker and his girlfriend, Carol—even left early. Not that I blamed them. Had there been an Azalea Pool Dolphin Historical Record for anyone to examine, it would have shown quite clearly that after Aaron Perry took his turn, the game was over. On the other hand, everyone liked Kevin, so most of the kids waited. We waited somewhat impatiently, but we waited.
Kevin paused in the center. “Ready?” he called.
“Yes!” we responded. “Just go!”
And he did. But he did not go up. Kevin went down.
Those of us left on the surface shot questioning looks at one another. What was he doing? We treaded water a little harder trying to see him below us. Kevin had gone all the way to the bottom. He was bending his knees . . . squatting, going lower . . . getting as close to the bottom as he could.
Suddenly, before any of us had time to pose a question or make a comment, Kevin pushed hard off the concrete and headed for the surface, coming fast. A second after he left the bottom, Kevin burst up and into the air with a triumphant yell.
We yelled too. It was plain to see that Kevin had gone much higher than Aaron had ever managed. What a moment! It was thrilling. It wasn’t long, though, before Aaron said, “Well, sure you went higher, but what you did . . . well, that’s not the way you do it. You cheated.”
Kevin smiled calmly. “Really?” he replied. “And ahh . . . where’s the rule that says you can’t go down before you go up?”
“Yeah! Yeah!” we agreed excitedly. “Where’s that rule? Huh? Huh?” We splashed water in Aaron’s face again and again. The old chlorinated-water-in-the-eyes maneuver, along with the implied threat of at least a half dozen eleven-year-olds holding his head underwater (and other forms of preadolescent swimming-pool violence), Aaron quickly agreed that Kevin’s new technique was legal.
Unfortunately the Official Dolphin League Rules Committee—Danny Stone and Bob Woodall—were forced (by Aaron’s mother) to concede that the new technique would be immediately available to all competitors in future contests.
As Aaron would use the new method in our very next game, everyone knew the crown would not be Kevin’s for very long. Interestingly, however, it was Kevin’s breakthrough that we all remembered and revered. By changing our understanding and belief about what was possible, Kevin had actually changed the game. Forever.
Though Aaron was once again the proud king of Dolphin, it was Kevin’s solitary win—that one incredible leap into the air—that we all remembered. To us, Kevin is still the Dolphin legend.
As the passing years turned into passing decades, it became curious to me how often my mind drifted back to that particular day. And every time I recalled the event, the memories arrived with an uncertain cloud around the edges. It was as if I had forgotten something.
Maybe I didn’t forget, I mused one day. Maybe I missed something entirely. But what could I have missed? I was right beside Kevin when it happened. I saw everything. And the story has never changed.
Still, there was some unanswered something, an unidentified thought, the hangnail of an idea that would not leave me alone. Finally, one morning several years ago, I woke up with this: during the entire history of the game Dolphin—until the moment Kevin Perkins rocketed out of the water—every one of us had competed every single time in the exact same way.
Exactly the same way? Yes. Why? Because we knew how the game was played. We knew how it was done. It is an odd thought to consider, but because Azalea Pool was the only place in the world our game was being played, we were not merely experts. No, in actual fact—though we were children—we were the best Dolphin players on the planet.
Unfortunately, there exists a principle that none of us understood at the time. Even long into adulthood, I never imagined it existed. The principle governs Limits and Results and holds absolute sway over every part of your life. The principle is at the same time incredibly simple and unbelievably mind boggling. It goes like this:
Be careful about what you think you know.
Because you can’t always believe everything you think.
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