A Tale of Two Paths: Partner Promotion vs Scuba Certification
As I’ve written about before (click on my About Me page to read a little bit more on my background), I left my job as a law firm associate in the 8th year of my career. For some, the end of the 8th year is when they are promoted from associate to partner. This is the ultimate goal of many law firm associates. However, it was not my goal and so I quit before I even had the chance of making partner.
A couple of weeks ago, my former firm announced the associates who were promoted to partner. If I had stuck around, maybe I would have been on that list, too. I admit I did wonder, for just a split second, if I would have indeed “made it” if I were still there. Even though I wondered, not for one second did I wish I had. Coincidentally, instead of making partner that week, I took my Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Certification course and am happy to say that I passed.
Obviously being promoted to partner at a global law firm and passing a PADI recreational scuba diver course (albeit the Advanced one, thankyouverymuch!) are two totally different accomplishments. One is earned after eight or more years of hard work and long hours, while the other is earned after a relatively short amount of time and simply by doing something fun.
Even though the two are so vastly different, I realized that I have gained so much from learning how to scuba dive. So much, in fact, that I think many of the skills I’ve learned translate to the real world and to many different careers. Below I’ve described the key skills you will develop and hone as you learn to scuba dive and how those skills can translate into success in your career, whatever that career might be.
Scuba Diving Skills
At first glance, scuba diving might seem like a solo sport. And that is true, in a sense, because you are ultimately responsible for your own dive, from your equipment to your physical ability to your scuba skills.
However, scuba diving is much more of a collaborative activity than a solo one, and that will become clear in each of the seven skills below. Each of these skills becomes more important as you become more advanced and take on more challenging dives. Likewise, these skills become more important as you progress in your career out of the water, too, as workplace situations become trickier and trickier to navigate.
1. Clear Communication.
UNDER WATER: It is extremely important in scuba diving to master the basic hand signals. Unless you are carrying an underwater notepad and pen, the only method of communication you will have with your buddy is through your hand signals. And hand signals are always the quickest and most effective way to communicate in an emergency.
For this reason, it is essential that you and your buddy master your signals, well ahead of your dive, so that there is no miscommunication once you’re under water. While the signal for ending the dive and heading to the surface is universal (thumbs up!), some people communicate other things in different ways.
For example, numbers can be expressed by using only fingers, the back and front of the hand, the wrist, or some combination of those. It’s good to discuss this ahead of time so you two are on the same page during the dive.
During the dive, you should be in constant communication as well, checking in to make sure each person is ok and pointing out all the amazing things you are seeing under water!
ON LAND: In the business world, communication is just as important. Similar to scuba diving, it is essential that you have clear communication with your co-workers and that you are on the same page. For example, before a presentation you are giving with a co-worker, it is best if you prepare ahead of time so you know exactly what each of you is going to say.
Communication isn’t just about words at the office, either. Become comfortable with your coworkers so you can understand each other even without speaking, just like you would with your diving buddies, is a valuable skill to cultivate.
Often times during a meeting, a presentation or a client call, you will not be able to have a full conversation with your co-workers, even if you are sitting in the same room. You might just have to use hand signals of your own. The more comfortable you are with each other and more prepared you are, the better you are going to fare.
UNDER WATER: Scuba divers bring various skills and levels to the table. Swimming ability, comfort under the water, buoyancy control, navigation ability, calm under pressure, etc. are just some of the many variables and skills that are required in diving. You’ll be better at some than at others, and the same goes for your dive buddy or buddies.
For this reason, it is essential in diving to be patient. First and foremost, because every diver needs to be comfortable on the dive. If one diver says it is time to end the dive, you end the dive, no matter what. This might sound frustrating, but it is one of the key rules in scuba diving.
A secondary benefit of patience is the simple fact that you need to be patient in order to reap the full benefits of a dive. Swim slowly, stake out a spot and really look for a while to see the tiny animals going in and out of the coral, and look around as you slowly swim about. Slow swimming is the best way to see what you came all that way down for!
ON LAND: In the business world, patience is the key to success for many reasons. It takes many years to advance in any career. As I’m sure you’ve often heard, there is no such thing as an overnight success.
The path to partnership in a law firm is the perfect example of this. If you are lucky, you make partner in eight years. But there is a lot of work and time spent at the office during those eight years, so you must be patient if it is something you want to achieve.
It also takes a ton of patience to work with difficult clients. All that slow and gentle breathing you practice during scuba diving might just come in handy at the office one day when all you want to do is scream at a client over the phone, but instead you take a few deep breaths and calmly answer his question. I wrote about how valuable a skill it is to have patience in my post on Skills Required to Be Successful in Biglaw.
Bosses and co-workers can be difficult too! Like your dive buddy who wants to end the dive early even when you don’t want to, you sometimes need to follow the lead of your boss, no questions asked.
For example, on a call with a client or during a big meeting, it might not be appropriate to question your boss, so you need to be patient, go with the flow, and hopefully later on you’ll have time to debrief and raise your concerns or questions.
3. Healthy Habits.
UNDER WATER: Before a dive, it is essential to be in the best shape you can be and to lead a generally healthy lifestyle. This is true immediately before a dive and during a diving trip, as well as when you are not diving. Ultimately, the better physical shape you are in, the better a diver you will be.
When you are scuba diving, it is super important to stay very hydrated and drink lots and lots of water before a dive, between dives and after your dives to replenish. You should limit your alcohol, too, get enough sleep before your dives and be in good cardiovascular shape. All of these things combine to make diving more fun, make your dives last longer and minimize the risks of diving.
ON LAND: Keeping a healthy lifestyle is essential to your success in your career as well. Instead of relying on caffeine and alcohol to get your through a long day or a boring cocktail party, if you can remember the habits you developed while diving – lots of water, little alcohol, and lots of sleep, you’ll make for a much more productive and happy employee.
4. Ability to Handle Stress.
UNDER WATER: A small mistake under water can escalate to another mistake and another, and before you know it, you might find yourself in a very stressful situation. Your ability to remain calm and handle that stressful situation might just mean the difference between life and death, for you or one of your dive buddies.
In scuba diving, you’ll learn to remain calm no matter what (oh, hey tiger shark! I see you swimming there but I’m just going to remain calm over here and not freak out). Faced with difficult situations, you simply remember to “just breathe,” remain calm and rely on your skills. You got this.
ON LAND: While not necessarily a life or death situation, the stakes are often extremely high in the corporate world. In fact, many people you come across will treat their work like it is a matter of life or death. If you remember back to the time where you remained calm, let that shark swim on by, and continued on with your dive, you’ll be able to calmly handle any type of issue the corporate world throws your way.
5. Speaking Up for Yourself.
UNDER WATER: One of the first things you learn in scuba diving is that you should never do anything you are not comfortable doing. Not only should you speak up for yourself if you feel like a dive is beyond your ability, you should also speak up for yourself when you have questions or when you have a preference on what to see or where to go.
Be flexible and easygoing, but it is your dive too, so make sure to express your opinion if you have one. It is your dive and ultimately your fun and your safety that are at risk if you do not speak up.
ON LAND: One of the hardest things (for younger workers, especially) at a job is to learn how to use your voice and speak up for yourself. It is one of the biggest challenges many people face at work. The best advice I have for this is that you need to push through whatever barriers you have in your mind and just do it – just speak up.
Speaking up does take lots of practice. But practice can be done outside of the office, too. For example – scuba diving! If you get used to speaking up for yourself in one part of your life, you’ll become more comfortable speaking up for yourself in other areas of your life, too. Before you know it, you’ll be expressing yourself at work like the boss that you are.
6. Math Skills.
UNDER WATER: I haven’t taken a real math class since high school and I know I’m not alone in shying away from spreadsheets and financial tables. I didn’t expect this, but in scuba diving, it is essential that you have at least a basic understanding of oxygen pressure at various depths and oxygen and nitrogen levels in the air you are breathing underwater. So, that means, it was time to learn some math again.
Your “bottom time” (how much time you can spend below the surface) and your “surface interval” time (how long you need to stay on the surface before being allowed to dive again) are both calculated based on – you guessed it, math.
Figuring out these times have to do with what type of air you are breathing (the percentage of oxygen and nitrogen in your tank), how deep you dive and how much air you have left in your tank. While dive computers help divers to calculate this all, you still need to understand how everything works.
For me, this turned out to be one of the most fun parts about taking a more advanced course. We really got into the numbers and how they worked, and mastering them made me feel both accomplished (I can do math!) and more at ease when diving (I was less intimidated by the potential risks of diving when I could do the calculation and see for myself that I was well-within the limits that were deemed safe).
ON LAND: Even if you haven’t taken math since high school, either, diving can teach you that you shouldn’t shy away from math in your career, either. Sure it takes time to learn and understand how a balance sheet or a financial model works, but it is not impossible. Take the skills you learn in diving (patience and knowledge that you can figure it out with some practice) and apply them to your real life.
You’ll see that you will feel extremely accomplished (you can do math!) and more at ease when talking with your clients at work who, for example, might be more used to dealing with numbers on a daily basis.
7. Ability to Get Along with All Types of People.
UNDER WATER: The scuba diving community brings together lots of like-minded people who love and respect the ocean, the outdoors, and the freedom that scuba diving brings. It also brings together people from all over the world and all types of backgrounds. If you have an open mind, you’ll meet some interesting and fun people on your dive trips!
This also means that people of all different ages, countries, languages, etc. will often times be spending long periods of time on a small boat together. You’ll definitely meet some characters, and if you can treat everyone with respect and enjoy yourself no matter what the day brings, you’ll have a great time.
ON LAND: Sometimes you spend so much time with your co-workers that you might as well be trapped in the middle of the ocean on a small boat with just them for what seems like an eternity. As anyone who has ever worked in the office, or seen The Office tv show, the corporate world has many characters as well.
Luckily scuba diving will have taught you how to deal with all types of people, often times in small spaces and sometimes even during stressful circumstances. The collaborative nature of scuba diving (like helping each other out with your equipment, adapting to others’ skill levels, teaching others new skills, pointing out cool things you see on the dive) will help you in your office life, too, when it is time to work with a new co-worker, take a difficult client out to an event, or chat with the weird dude from down the hall at a firm reception.
Master Dive Buddy In Progress
Becoming the best dive buddy I can be instead of the best law firm partner I could have been was the best decision I could ever have made. Not that I quit the law to become a scuba diver, but I have been able to get better at an awesome sport and develop skills I can one day use if I ever return to an office job.
What’s more, I’m confident that whatever I am learning now from my continued scuba diving practice will be helpful in whatever career I choose to pursue next.
Have you ever tried scuba diving? If so, are there any other skills you can think of that have helped or could potentially help you in a job, whether that is in an office or some other work environment? Let me know in the comments below!