Keep Swimming

The other day my daughter had an appointment at the children’s hospital in Denver. She had a lump on her neck that had been there for a few weeks and was steadily getting larger. I was fearing the worst, not only because she’s my daughter but also because my best friend from college had a lump in almost the same place. That lump turned out to be cancer. 

I don’t know who was more nervous walking into the hospital—my daughter Beatrice or her parents. 

As we approached the automatic doors that hot Denver spring day, our palms were sweating in their tight grip on our daughter’s smaller hands. Despite this, the wall of air-conditioned air that slammed into us when we stepped from outdoors to indoors felt brutal. Rather than being refreshing, it was a too-cold physical expression of what we were walking into.

We parents were tense knowing our lives might change dramatically in the next few hours as we learned our daughter’s prognosis. Our daughter could feel our anxiety and tensed up too.

But just beyond the unforgiving wall of cold air, we encountered a different message in large permanent letters on the wall, one ostensibly aimed at children that also intentionally, or not, hit a mark with at least one set of parents.

“Just keep swimming.”

Words borrowed from a childhood Disney classic—a life-saving mantra Finding Nemo’s Dory shares with a scared Nemo who’s been separated from his dad—seem simple enough.

But despite their simplicity and potential for claiming inspirational-poster platitude status, they were actually incredibly helpful and timely for a mom and dad facing uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed. And those words and that scene have now been burned into me, associated with all I was feeling as the three of us faced what was beyond those doors.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Great Reset. Back in June, we were moving into an amazing opportunity to reset how we work and live. That opportunity to reset was afforded to us because it seemed like the wind was in our sails as we came out of COVID, so to speak, and things were moving in a positive direction.

I felt hopeful and excited.

Now, a few weeks later as kids go back to school, it seems like we should be fully resetting as we thought then.

But we aren’t really after all, are we?

Now we see a 300% increase in COVID cases (in the States) from last year. And many businesses continue to prioritize at-home work and minimal business travel. Our kids are all wearing masks at school, and this week my family had our first real COVID scare.

This doesn’t seem anything like a Great Reset. So what do we do?

The only thing we can do: Just keep swimming.

What does “just keep swimming” mean for us?

The answer will look different for each of us. But for me, it first means that I must show up. From 8 to 5 every day, I must show up. I must be there for my team. For our members. And for myself. Just like Beatrice had to keep “swimming” through those automatic doors and up the stairs to get tested, I must keep going and do my job. I’m reminding myself that running two companies requires stamina, endurance, and grit.

Second, it means knowing what I’m uniquely gifted at doing in this season. Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive says that the best thing I can do as a CEO is understand “What can I contribute?” He said that most CEOs think they best contribute by “telling their teams what to do and ensuring that everyone does their jobs.” But actually, the best CEOs prioritize what skills they personally can bring to their business. He calls it looking ahead versus looking down.

Third, it means resting. I can’t show up from 8 to 5 every day unless I rest at night. This means no phone after 9 pm, reading good books at night, and staying away from anxiety-producing activities at night (i.e., certain shows, conversations, etc.).

It also means discerning and then staying true to my vision. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the vision I have for GAN. This vision keeps me going when things seem tough. It’s an incredible north star that motivates me when I’m struggling.

Finally, by having a mantra of “just keep swimming,” I’m choosing to hope that good things will come. Even when everything seems to be going wrong, I’m remaining hopeful that positive outcomes will occur. I will be hopeful that we’ll be able to provide valuable products for customers who need them, that our culture helps people feel connected and good at their jobs, and that we’ll continue to have a company that is providing for the livelihoods of everyone in it. This hope keeps me going.

And, on a positive note, we just kept swimming at the hospital too. Beatrice’s tumor was benign.