Jan 042011
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Happy New Year TLOTL readers. Even though this is the week when most of us are heading back to work, I’m kicking off 2011 with a post that is perhaps 80% frivolous, 20% serious.

After a holiday break that included a healthy amount of feasting, family time, and general decompression, I decided to finally join the ranks of individuals who feel compelled to remove most of their winter clothing and hurl themselves into near-freezing water on New Year’s Day. And even though I reside in Seattle — which,  at 47 degrees and 37 minutes of latitude, is closer to the North Pole than it is to the equator — I figured that jumping into the chilly waters of Puget Sound wasn’t silly enough to suit my purposes.

No, clearly it was necessary to travel 144 miles north to Vancouver, where a throng of nearly 2000 like-minded, half-nekked individuals huddled on the shores of English Bay for the annual Polar Bear Swim. Here we waited for the (warmly-dressed, hot cocoa-sipping, and smirking) event organizers to inform us that it was finally “ok” to dive into Pacific Ocean waters measuring a very uncomfortable 6 degrees Celsius.

The photo to the right links to my Facebook album documenting Vancouver Polar Bear Swim 2011this adventure. The combination of a large crowd — many of whom were feeling the effects of liquid courage, early-stage hypothermia, or both — and the presence of my 5 year old daughter prevented my paparazza (wife) from even approaching the designated plunge area. But there’s a very entertaining, crowd-sourced slideshow of the event on Flickr.

You may be wondering what would possess an otherwise normal person to do such a thing. Of course I can only speak for myself. The answer lies somewhere on the continuum between “I have no freaking idea why” and “because I had to.” One does not typically over-contemplate the decision to join a Polar Bear Swim. It’s a commitment that is almost always made in haste. And I think that’s really my best answer to the “why” question, and also the tie-back to the “20% serious” claim I made at the beginning of this post.

Some who know me may disagree with this assessment, but I think I’m a fairly careful person, or careful enough anyway. I pay my bills on time. My life, health, business and property are all adequately insured. I try to leave a clean wake in my relationships. Before making important business or personal decisions, I have been known to (obsessively?) analyze them through multiple lenses, be they financial, spiritual, social, global, metaphysical, or “other.”

Just after Christmas I ran into a business contact who observed that it’s normal for him to generate 10 good ideas, try to implement 8 of them, and be satisfied if none of them work, as long as he learns something in the process. I genuinely admire that about him. And what I think he admires about me is that I’m exactly the opposite. I love to generate ten good ideas, and then use my analytical skills — and those of my collaborators — to kill or “parking lot” the nine that don’t make sense right now, and use the remaining energy to execute well against the one that I believe will work.

Now, to be clear, I wasn’t trying to rinse off these personality traits in the frigid waters of English Bay. I think they have generally served me well over the years. But in joining the Polar Bear Swim, I very much wanted to celebrate the virtue of “not thinking about stuff too much.” And a great way to celebrate that virtue is to fullly experience the discomfort, and the thrill, that comes with it. And so if I’m going to be not comfortable while I’m not thinking too much, it’s preferable to be not alone.

New Year’s Day is just another day, but it’s a marker of change. Change happens all around us, and within us, all the time. I find that the company I keep, more than anything, is what makes that change manageable, rewarding, and, more often than not: FUN.

Happy New Year!