It was after work and I felt like it was good weather for a swim. My long distance running dreams are currently as shattered as my right ankle, so to maintain some sort of fitness I had no choice but to switch to swimming for the time being.
I am not proficient at swimming nor do I enjoy it. I tried to maintain my form and strokes but wasn’t strong enough to fight through the resistance. I swam with my lungs the whole time, while my muscles did just enough to keep me afloat. After a few laps I got out and sat at the stands, exhausted.
That was when I started talking to one of the lifeguards there. He donned the familiar yellow shirt with red shorts and had a pair of sunglasses propped above his hairline. He was probably in his fifties, and sat comfortably in his plastic chair. I told him about my injury and how I was swimming to maintain my fitness, and he advised me to take it slow.
Then came the interesting part, I asked him about his job.
“So how’s it like to be a lifeguard?” I asked. “Not bad, lah,” was his reply. Not bad? That’s all?
“I know a friend, he works as a part time lifeguard. He goes around hotels and public pools, but he still tells me it’s really boring.” I tried to be indirect with my words because I didn’t want to directly insinuate him and his job. I guess I was just curious as to what he had to say about this bit of popular opinion, that being a lifeguard is “boring”, so to speak.
“Well, you see. That’s the thing about human nature,” he started. “When the job has a lot of requirements and is very complicated, people complain that it is very tough and tiring, restrictive and rigorous.” I nodded along. “But then suddenly you give people a job with nothing to do, they will definitely complain that it is boring and purposeless.” The fact that he brought up human nature straight off the bat made me like him from the start. And yes, what he said made a lot of sense. It seems like we are never contented with the work we are given. It’s either too hard or too easy, and both have such devastating side effects.
He continued, “so I think it’s important to find that balance, to have a job that doesn’t kill you and at the same time doesn’t bore you to death. That’s the main idea. Many youngsters now will obviously be bored with this job. Plus nowadays there are so many job fairs, and so many engaging and challenging jobs out there. You all should go out there and find your own paths.” I couldn’t agree more. I told him I was trying out teaching now, and to that he said, “Teaching is interesting. It ties in very close to nursing, and they are jobs that people don’t appreciate for how tough they are. You deal with so many different people and many of them will not appreciate you or simply forget you after they leave your care. It’s tough but many do enjoy it. I’m sure there’s a reason why.”
Well I did enjoy it so far, I told him, and may very well consider it for the future. It is tough, but there is value in the children you invest your energy in. He nodded at me and concluded, “you may very well teach in the future, but in the end, you must remember the most important thing, and that is passion. Above all, there is passion. People will do the toughest jobs for passion, and look at me. I’ve been doing this for 34 years. I sit here all day and to me it means a lot. It is relaxing and I get to talk to people and have become friends with many of the regular swimmers. Many of us give lessons after our shifts but right now I’m too lazy to do that. I just enjoy what I do.”
I smiled at him and nodded. Words of wisdom do come from the most unexpected places.