In her new memoir, Find A Way ($17, amazon.com), Diana Nyad talks about reaching her life-long goal in 2013 when she becameÂ theÂ first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, a feat all the more impressive because she wasÂ 64 at the time. But that's not all this incredible athlete talks about. She also reveals how she overcameÂ personal trauma, excelledÂ as an athlete, andÂ learned toÂ accept life as it comes--including failure. You may not be swimming from Cuba to Florida any time soon, but here are six life lessons you can learn from Nyadâs book.
Donât waste time feeling sorry for yourself
It took four failed attempts, over decades, before Nyad completed her swim, and she enduredÂ stinging jelly fish, strong currents, a 12-hour asthma attack, and more, only to have to turn back each time. But she says she never wallowed in self-pity after failed attempts. Instead she focused on making herself better for the future.
âI am aware that I am weak. But I donât waste any time or energy on anger or self-pity. These ultra-endurance epics often serve as a microcosm for life itself. As they say, life happens when weâre making plans for Scenario A, with backup plans for Scenario B, while being smart enough to prepare for Scenario C. When Scenario Z smacks us in the gut, we gather our wits about us and dip into every resource within and without.â
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Experiences donât define your life, you do
Nyad has spoken out about using swimming as an outlet to overcome anger from sexual abuse she experienced as a youngÂ teen.Â In Find A Way, she discusses learning to accept her body and how she overcame negative feelings that were triggered by the abuse.
âItâs been only very recently that Iâve come to peace â even prideâ about my breasts. I spent some forty years bolting awake from nightmares in which my breasts were being knifed off. Worse, I considered having my breasts surgically removed. Thank goodness I didnât mutilate my beautiful body and allow that pig to forever harm me. Trust me, I have never wasted much time wallowing in sadness over the sexual abuse of my youth. I have always been keenly aware that literally millions suffer far worst that I ever did. Yet I can only live my own life. This is my personal saga and the facts speak their own volumes.â
You are not alone in your suffering
In day-to-day life, it is easy to get caught up in our own problems and forget about others. Nyad reminds us that everyone struggles and that we can find comfort in knowing we are not alone.
âEvery one of us knows heartache and hardship. Itâs the human condition to suffer at one time or another. Half the worldâs population doesnât have basic daily necessities. The suffering is great indeed, mind-boggling. For the other half, we have choices, some more than others. But we all suffer. All of us. Believe me, Iâve lived a life of overwhelming privilege and opportunity. Nevertheless, those crimes committed against me by my father and then my coach marked my interior world to a haunting degree.â
Accomplishments are nothing without engagement
Nyad explains that the most magical thing about achieving her goals is that theyÂ let her fully immerse herself in life.
âI may be driven by near-impossible dreams, but the ethic that arches broader and moves me even more than reaching for the stars is simply: engaging. To me, life in retreat, a stagnant life, is not life well lived.â
You canât control everything, and thatâs okay
One of the most important things that Nyad says she learned during her career was being able to accept the unchangeable. Once she was able to let this go, she focused on the things she could control to make herself an even better performer.
âItâs a joy to be this age, to have relinquished that tight control that governed my younger years. I am free in the acceptance that, even though my will is indeed powerful and I refuse to surrender to definitions of limitations, I cannot control the universe or others."
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There is a balance between will and acceptance
One of Nyadâs most important lessons is that there is strength in accepting that which cannot be changed.
âAlong with perspective and wisdom, we seem to achieve balance as we age. An antique scale in my house reminds me of the particular balance between the drive of will and the grace of acceptance. My 32-year-old friend fought a ravaging cancer. She battled with true grit, traveled every road of science and hope, never a moment of self-pity. But at the end she was even braver in finding the grace to say a peaceful good-bye to her husband and children.â