Getting Out of Your Depth – Caution Advised!


A long ago I learned to swim. I was 6 or 7 years old and my dad taught myself and my brothers to swim along the sandy beaches on Dublin’s north side. Once we had achieved a level of competency we were always told to swim parallel to the shore. But as part of our fun, inquisitively, we walked out to see just how far we could go while keeping our toes on the seabed without letting the water touch our chins. At this point, we were just about out of our depth. Then we swam along the beach as our dad had told us to.

The beach was never completely flat, as we assumed. Occasionally, when we stopped and tried to put our feet down, suddenly, the bottom wasn’t there. As novice swimmers, we had only two choices – use what we had learned to swim back towards shore, or panic. Panic was not an option, so we swam closer to the shore to where we could stand comfortably again.

Slowly, but surely, in our attempts to enjoy ourselves, we had done the one thing our parents had told us never to do – get out of our depth.

That lesson is an easy one to learn and sometimes when running a business, we swim too far and end up out of our depth without even knowing it.

It was alright as a child when swimming on the beach with our dad nearby to lift us up if we started to struggle. Instinctively, at that time, we would know what to do to ensure we got back to safe territory without delay. But, it’s not so simple when you’re running your own business. The temptation is always there to go a little bit further in pursuit of an opportunity.

Even though the surroundings might seem familiar, you are operating within your area of competency, but it’s easy to get out of your depth without realising it.

Perhaps your competency is being questioned, or your ability to deliver. As you are in charge everybody depends on your decision-making process, which creates huge levels of stress and fear.

The fear of failure can be paralysing. Indecision, loss of belief, fear of loss of respect…

That paralysis can also invade our personal lives. We don’t leave it in the office, it starts to follow us around when we go home on evenings and at weekends. We live in a world where admitting that we are out of our depth can often be very difficult to do. In business, we face the situation where a failure can be very public and humiliating which leads us to draw heavily upon our personal support structures.

Getting out of our depth in business, just as in the sea, poses very serious consequences. Consequences which we must face up to.

Swimming for the shore may seem, to the outside observer, like the obvious course of action. However, when we are caught up in a panic, we do not always choose this route. The route we do take can cause damage to our business, both in terms of revenue and the relationships we have built up over time. It can be career limiting.

Not being able to admit that such an issue is impacting on you can cause stress, high blood pressure, and other more serious health concerns. Really we ought to address the problem head-on; this is, of course, easier said than done.

The biggest impediment to solving a problem such as being out of your depth is the fear of losing face. Nobody wants to look bad, and so we struggle on, sure that we can patch things up somehow. This especially true when you have a team of people looking to you for guidance and leadership. It is not an easy place to be, especially when our own negative self-doubts try to sabotage our next move. Where do you turn to when you need support to get through these challenges?

This situation can be dangerous if you do not have a solid, reinforced support structure to lean on in times of doubt. But, we can’t expect to have a support structure in place if we haven’t taken the time to nurture one.

There are those who can support us within the work setting. For example, there may be someone with whom you can discuss your fears knowing that it won’t go any further. If you operate with a small team, identifying that one person who you can confide in and nurturing that relationship over time will pay off.

At home, discussing your concerns with your spouse or life partner can help to deepen your relationship. Although we tend to not want to worry our loved ones, keeping worries bottled up does not help. 9 times out of 10 they know that something is wrong anyway, so you might as well come clean!

Peer support is also hugely beneficial – whether that be your peers at work or outside it. Many of us know other business people who encounter similar problems to our own. Taking the leap to create a relationship where you can discuss concerns openly will benefit you both and create a solid friendship. But, peer relationships need not just be work ones. If there is something really bothering you, why not try to broach it with a friend from a completely different industry? They may not understand the intricacies of the situation, but they might provide a different insight you had never imagined.

We all get out of our depth from time to time. When we strive for growth, sometimes we overshoot the mark and end up in trouble.

It happens, we’re only human. But don’t let yourself drown for the sake of asking for a little help. Make building your support structure a priority. You can be there for them when they need it, and when it’s your turn, they’ll be there for you.


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