In the summer of 1989, I had just finished fourth grade at my school in Singapore and couldn't wait to attend my first summer camp on a small island off the coast of Malaysia. Most of the other kids in my group had been to this camp the year before and knew what to expect, but I was willing to brave being the "new guy" because I had great visions of what this adventure would entail.
When the time came, I begrudgingly kissed my mom goodbye, grabbed my oversized duffel bag and took a seat on the boat. As the port disappeared over the horizon, I leaned back in my seat under the warm sun, closed my eyes, and soaked it all in. All was right with the world...
That is, until I was shaken out of my sleep by the frantic voices of camp counselors screaming: The boat was unable to reach the island. We'd have to swim in. Pure anarchy erupted around me. Kids were abandoning ship left and right, and in the pandemonium, without pausing to think or ask why, I blindly followed suit.
Though I've always been an excellent swimmer, in that moment I discovered that there is a very good reason that fish don't wear jeans and sneakers. While the other kids swam freely to shore, I was fighting to stay afloat.
After what felt like the most epic five-second struggle for survival, one of the counselors yelled for me to throw my jeans and shoes back on the boat. I happily obliged. Unencumbered, I swam to the shore with ease. But as I approached the beach, I saw all the other kids playing and laughing, clothed comfortably in their bathing suits, while I...wasn't. How could that be?
Apparently every summer started with a swim from the boat to the island. The boat was not sinking after all. It was floating peacefully behind me with a swimsuit tucked safely in my duffel bag. Had I paused for a moment to ask, there would have been time to change. There had been no emergency worthy of a near death experience or emerging on the sandy shore, before all my new campmates, in my underwear.
It was in that moment that I learned an invaluable lesson: Never do something without understanding why. I've applied that lesson to just about every facet of my life. As an employee, I questioned traditions to make sure we were doing things that accomplished our goals. As a business owner, I make sure I understand the reasoning behind any suggestions or decisions.
My quest for understanding can be cumbersome to those around me. But ever since that summer, this approach to life has kept me from drowning, and I always arrive at the shore with my swim trunks on.
WAMU's series on lifelong learning is a partnership with the Faces of Learning Campaign to share personal stories of powerful learning experiences.