Ono Island is the Hamptons of the Alabama Gulf Coast. Home to country and pop artists, comedians, actors, and sports stars, Ono Island is secluded, gated, and very private. To the south of the island is The Old River. This waterway serves as a moat against the wage earning vagrants and paupers who vacation along the Perdido Beach Road. A few years back, I was one of those paupers. However, I wasn’t going to let a little brackish river keep me from potentially making friends with Britney Spears or Woody Harrelson!
What started out as a joke soon became a test of manhood. June 6th, 2012 was the day that I would swim across The Old River. I remember the date because it was the same day that The University of Alabama defeated Oklahoma in the Women’s College World Series in the rain and the same day that we got a call from our social worker informing us of potential issues with the adoption of our daughter.
There were three of us guys sitting by the pool and a cast of other beach going rednecks under the cabana whose pot bellies, body hair, and cut off jeans made me feel a lot better about my fading physical appearance. After listening to every Lynard Skynard song on the ipod, and the bottle of Fireball met its fortuitous demise, the stage was set for something big to happen.
“I bet I can swim all the way over there”, my friend Hut said pointing to Ono Island.
As the dozen or so people snickered and jeered at his presumption, I soberly advised to the contrary.
“Hell yeah, I can. And when I get there I’m gonna make out with Britney Spears on her boat dock”, he exclaimed to the now cheers from the cast of rednecks. By this time they just wanted to see him give it a try and, if they were lucky, see someone drown-- Kind of like watching Nascar for the crashes!
“I’ll make you a deal. If you jump in first, I’ll swim it with you”, I said in a bluff. My error in this bluff was thinking that rationality and the assessment of fear could be processed by my inebriated friend.
“Let’s GO”, Hut said as he flung his body off the wooden dock and splashed belly first!
A deal is a deal, so I jumped in directly after him.
This is the point in the story that I should mention, in addition to an elevated blood alcohol content, Hut is seriously out of shape and more than a few pounds heavier than in his prime.
The next 500 feet could mean life and death for one, or both of us. After about 50 yards I saw the fear in Hut’s eyes and his sobriety was instantly renewed. He honestly thought he was going to drown.
Luckily, there was a sand bar shallow enough for us to stand up in about 50 more yards away. All I could think about was the death crawl scene from the movie Facing the Giants. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sUKoKQlEC4)
“A few more strokes , Hut. Kick. Kick. Kick. You can do it! We are almost there. Just a little farther now. Hut, don’t stop moving! I think I can see the sandbar. Kick. Kick. Kick! I wonder what Britney is wearing? Keep swimming Hut.”
After about 40 yards of fighting for every inch, Hut was defeated and stopped moving his arms.
“I’m done. Please don’t let me die”, he said in sincerity.
At this point I’m exhausted as well, but I know that we are 20 seconds away from being able to rest.
“Move your arms, one more stroke, now another. Kick. Kick. KIIIICCCKKKK!”, I shouted as loud as I could as I felt the sand between my toes.
“Now stand up”, I directed as he realized that he was safe.
Hut looked back at the pool side cabana and proclaimed, “I AM THE BADDEST MAN ALIVE”!!!
The crowded cabana erupted in cheers and began chanting his name in unison.
We rested for a few minutes before finishing the last 30 yards with fresh lungs and made ourselves temporary residents of Ono Island. Britney Spears must not have been home that day, but it didn’t matter, because Hut was Ono Island’s champion distance swimmer for the moment and found a part of himself that he never knew existed.
Soon the alcohol replaced the adrenaline and he screamed at a pontoon boat passing by and hitched a ride home.
Being motivated during tough situations gives us a glimpse of what we have the potential to be. Having a person that believes in you during adversity is something that every successful person has. Nobody can do it on their own. Maybe you are that person to someone. Maybe you’re the only person that supports them in their most difficult ventures.
Help others to refuse to accept difficulty as failure.
Push them the last few yards of their journey and celebrate the victory.
Allowing them to stop or pushing them to keep going could change their life. When we motivate people they learn the importance of accountability in the process of mastering something new. Hut may never swim The Old River again, but he knows he has the ability to do it. Your employees will never understand their potential to change your organization until they see failure as an option in the face of difficulty and choose perseverance instead. The results are always life changing.
We write off motivation as an effective way to overcome tough situations with most of our employees because we assume they don’t have the ability to reach new levels of achievement. SHAME ON US! It’s not for us to make this decision. Our job is to be a constant and consistent support system and motivate them to gain new knowledge and skills in their pursuit of development. Investing in our people means supporting them unconditionally through motivation and encouragement….. no matter what.
Where were you Britney,