What a shark taught me

It started off as a nightmare, then ended up being a dream come true.

Just centimeters of metal between myself and one of the most feared ocean creatures: A Great White shark.  It was one of the only things I wanted to do on our trip to South Africa.  So, my family and I hopped in a van at 3 a.m. to drive us from Cape Town to Gansbaai, the Great White shark capital of the world.

It was freezing outside, and no doubt the water would be even colder.  We could see the sun peaking up from behind the trees as we boarded the boat that would eventually get us face to face with a Great White.

Taking the plunge was supposed to be a family activity.  My dad and I were ready to hop in to a wet suit and strap on goggles until someone mentioned getting sea sick.  Slowly, our minds got the best of us and my stomach started to turn as the boat rolled back in forth, making its way out to open water.  It could have been the constant rocking, or the smell of fish guts being slopped in to a bucket to throw off the back of the boat, but dad’s stomach wasn’t having it.

As I hopped and tried to squeeze myself in to my wet suit I glanced over and saw my dad clutching the side of the boat.  Well then, I guess I’m the only one getting in the cage from this family.

I strapped on goggles and slipped my feet in to a pair of flippers.  I flung my feet over the side of the boat, and stopped for a moment to look down.  The water quickly faded from a deep blue to an inky purple so quickly I couldn’t make out the bottom of the cage.  Before I had time to even think about the possibility that those bars didn’t look thick enough to keep out a shark, we were told to hop in.

\My body seized up as I plunged in to the frigid water, any feeling of sea sickness evaporated.  I pushed off the bottom of the cage to grasp the bars that would help me get above water again.  Then we had to wait.

For a half hour my body rolled along with waves as we waited in the cage for a shark to pop up.  I realized after fifteen minutes I had a death grip on the bars at the top when my mom noticed my knuckles were turning white.

It was in that moment that I realized I was scared to death.

Realistically, I shouldn’t have been that scared.  Cage diving is big business in South Africa and tons of tourists come and do it every year, but I still had that sinking what if feeling.  But today wasn’t the day for me to give in to “what if.”  I was here, I had come so far.

Very rarely do we do anything that really truly scares us.  I’m a pretty timid person.  If something is wrong with my food at a restaurant, I rarely send it back.  If I have a personal issue with a friend, I’m much more likely to internalize it and try to forget about it than confront that person.  But what good does that do for us?  Why eat cold food or harbor passive aggressive feelings when you could savor one of the best meals you’ve ever had, or reach a new level of understanding with someone you love.

If we aren’t doing something that scares us each and every day, we aren’t growing.  How do we know what we’re truly capable of at all levels of ourselves if we don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zone?  Conquering those fears looks different for everyone.  It can be as simple as giving a presentation in class, or getting up the courage to ask someone out.  In the moment, it’s not always pleasant, but the other side of discomfort is amazing.

That’s what the sharks taught me.

As I waited in that frigid water, and contemplated turning around and getting my mom to help pull me up and out of the cage, I realized that would be a waste.  It would be a waste of the courage that got me this far if I didn’t take the plunge.

And when the captain yelled “DOWN, DOWN, DOWN!” I pushed myself as far down in to the cage as I could so I could stare down that fear, and resurface again feeling courageous.

If you want to see some GoPro video from my experience, check out the video below!

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