At the age of three, like nearly every three-year-old, my understanding of numbers was connected to groupings of things representing said number.
4 X XX X
2 Y Y
So, filled with excitement at the sight of an indoor pool, on a vacation tied to a business trip of my dad, when I saw the large, rectangular pool equally divided by a floating line down the center.
I paused and looked to the left and right of the center line.
To the right of the line, the number 3 was clearly painted on the side of the pool. To the left of the line was the number 8, big and bold.
I remember it as vividly as if it was yesterday.
There were three people on the side with the number 3. To me, that meant that that side of the pool was “full.”
On the side with the “8” . . . .only four swimmers. I assumed there was “room on that side.”
And so while my mother, the non swimmer, was keeping an eye on my diaper-wearing toddler brother, I jumped in, without hesitation, to the left side of the pool. . . Because the right side was full.
Of course the 3 and the 8 represented the depth of the pool. In feet.
And at the age of 3, with no water wings and only handful of YMCA swimming lessons to my name, I was in over my head, in more ways than one.
I struggled and flailed and went under. In an effort to reach for the side of the pool I snagged my suit on some part of the metal frame of the ladder.
Unbeknownst to me, up on the pool deck, my mother screamed and jumped into the pool, leaving my toddler brother to fend for himself. Her heavy pool cover-up billowed up beneath her and she bobbed on the surface of the pool unable to go up or go down.
Thankfully an older, balding, thin man who I can still see today, was in the pool in seconds. He freed me from whatever had snagged my suit and set me up on the side of the pool and then took off after my mother, whose water laden cover-up was now heavy with water and about to drag her under.
He had both of us safely on the side of the pool, while my little brother was minding his own business and staying out of the fray.
There’s a lesson there somewhere. For all of us.
While there were 3 people on the side of the pool that, by coincidence had a large number 3 on the side, I (literally) jumped to a conclusion that quickly had me in over my head and upended other people’s lives and plans as they offered assistance to solve an otherwise unavoidable problem.
I had incomplete information.
I made a wild assumption, without enough information or life experience.
I was unsupervised.
This has, in many ways become the story of my life. With a handful of facts in front of me, and enough optimism to be dangerous, I leap.
As is typically the case, the facts are usually incontrovertible. Incomplete, perhaps, but incontrovertible none the less.
I don’t regret the optimism. I do believe that there is a path out. That good will prevail. That hard work gets you somewhere. That the occasional lottery ticket will pay off. And that chocolate is good for you.
Not every time. Not to everyone. But more often than not, good wins. And that’s as much attitude as it is effort.
But I do regret not pausing to assess all the facts at times. Do they mean what I think they mean? Or do they mean simply what I what I want them to mean? Do I have enough information to proceed, before (literally) jumping into the deep end?
Context is important. Knowledge is a good thing. Life experiences are valuable. Life can be more complicated than Sesame Street makes it out to be.
And yes, every now and then, you need an older, balding, thin guy to jump in and untangle you. We have all benefited from the assistance and guidance of those older and wiser. Those mentors, teachers, friends and occasional strangers at the right time can shape our journey and open our minds.
But as we grow older we should come to realize that sometimes you just shouldn’t jump.
Sometimes you check your facts. Sometimes you ask for an opinion. Sometimes you stop and think.
Sometimes, you look (closely) before you leap.