Being lost at sea (the current VUCA in my life)

It was the time of my life that I didn’t pay attention to my body in a demeaning way.  I didn’t shun it, shame it or speak with disgust of it or to it.

I was 12.

It was summer.

I was sporting my new red and white polka dot bikini (and given the Mother I had, it covered more than an itsy bitsy yellow polka dot one).

I grew up at the coast.  We’d walk to the beach early on a Saturday mornings and only head back home when our skin was taut, red and tingly and our stomachs, having chewed through every last reserve, were now in revolt.

It was a summer day like every other.  The sun was baking and it was only 09h30.  The water cold and refreshing.  Families were setting up for the day; brollies and blankets and the necessary bottles of sunscreen and water.

I wasn’t (still am not) a good swimmer, bit I wasn’t afraid of the sea.  I was simply respectful of her ever present duality – gentle calm and raging fierce.

I shouted to my Dad (Mom hated the sand, the mess and the heat) and let him know that I was going to cool off in the water.

I saw one of my friends further out than I’d usually go.  She seemed to be having a blast on her new boogie board.  I paddled out, the waves bobbing me further and further away from the sandy shore where my Dad was.

I saw it too late.  The wave had built up momentum behind me.  Every surfer’s dream.

They called it a dumper.

“You got taken by a dumper”.  “You’re okay”.  “Your Dad is here”.

I remember being sucked under the waves.

Unable to breathe.

Swallowing water.

Being tossed around.

Chest on fire.



From that day on I’ve not gone back into the sea more than ankle deep. I don’t get into a swimming pool if there is anyone else in it.

However poorly I swam before, now I can’t even do that.

The fear of the sea is real.

Much has changed in my life in the past 9 months because much has changed deep inside of me.

The who I am.  The what I desire.  The where I wish to be, are all in question.  All in flux.

Everything that I knew to be true, a bit like being on terra firma, is being tossed around.  Not much different to being caught in that dumper.

Much has changed in the world in the last 2 weeks! COVID-19 is the lurking ‘Jaws’ and the music is getting louder each day and as much as I try and drown it out, I’m not winning.

Terra firma.  The day to day practices, or should I say programming that we blindly carry out.  That which we say keeps us ‘safe and sane’.  Like driving the same route to work each day (so that we don’t have to think about it).  The opening up of our social media apps when the alarm goes off and before you jump out of bed (so that you can catch up with the world).

Or that artsy movie that you only watch with your friend Connie, or when you’re after a serious conversation how you holler for Nadine.

Terra firma – the solid ground -the sense we make of day to day drudgery, that we call the normalcy of life.

Terra firma – that way of being – the only way of being that we’ve known – where the ‘waves’ are gentle ripples in the water of life.

Where a pair of gumboots and a rainmac are all you need and where the ‘storm’ passes by with a roof tile or two dislodged, and still your ‘home’ remains untouched.

But all of that, that I know to be the terra firma of my life has been uprooted.  The ‘home’ of me, the roof, the walls all swept away by the waves of change.

And now I find myself at sea.

My fear.

I’ve never been a good swimmer, not even average.

How do I find my new sense of ‘terra firma’ out here in the vast scape of nothingness?

I can float for a while, but I won’t move closer to the shore.

Do I follow the north star?

My north star?

What is my new north star?

Do I look for a lighthouse and swim towards that?  Does that become my new beacon?

I’m afraid of everything lurking about and below me.  The things that I know are there but I can’t see them.

How do I stay calm and tread water because creating chaos will tire me out? I’ll swallow water.

I might even drown.

Is there anything around me that I can re-engineer to be a raft of some sort, or some form of support?

Can I do some backstroke and then float for a while?

How can I teach myself to open my eyes beneath the surface of the water and get a clearer lens of what is truly ‘lurking’?

What of my ‘previous life’s’ competencies can I draw on:

Staying calm in times of panic

Listening to my gut

Failing and not being defined by the failure

Leading from the inside out

Let me tread water for a minute or so.  Listen to what my deep knowingness is telling me.

And then I’ll try breaststroke – moving forward with determination – facing what is around me – facing what I am moving towards.

And then when I’m tired I can float a while.

Staying calm.

But wait!

What if I become comfortable in this new space?
What if I find my ‘sea-legs’?

Will this become my new terra firma? And how long before I find myself in a new ‘out at sea’ space?

We speak ‘casually’ about a VUCA world, a VUCA environment.  Most organisations that I consult to have run (some successful and others not) programs that they have called VUCA1 or VUCA2019 over the past couple of years.  But what competencies do we truly need in this ever constantly changing world of ours?

How do we as people, as organisations find our ‘sea legs’?

How do we ensure that we don’t become complacent to our ‘life programming’?

How do we consciously create change in our world rather than being swept to sea when we least expect it, with nothing other than a red and white polka dot bikini?