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  • Sonja Kirschner

Have you checked your buoyancy lately?

February 8, 2019

“Scuba diving is like taking a walk in a completely new forest, a place you have never been before, a wonderland” our scuba instructor said to us before our introductory dive in Bali, Indonesia.


She was right, the underwater “jardins” which is French for gardens are nothing but magical, exciting and overwhelmingly beautiful. Our instructor was a French young woman with a wonderful French accent letting her English instructions sound more like a cheerful fairytale than a serious subject that comes with a bunch of safety requirements first and foremost. One of the first things you learn during your first dives is to check and manage your buoyancy. In the beginning that’s a pretty complicated practice as it depends on a complex mix of different factors like your lunge volume, your body weight, the weight of your oxygen tank, which in turn depends on how full it is and thus on your air consumption which again depends on your training level and so on and so on .... a lot of new stuff to learn! It happens quite often that you either float 15ft. above your group anxiously trying to get down to them or you find yourself on the ground waving up to your dive buddy signaling that everything is ok 👌you just need a little longer to come up as you’re trying to optimize your ascend because too fast is not so good for your lungs .... I’m telling you, it can get quite frustrating if your buoyancy is not right! And sometimes dangerous, too! But over time it becomes more and more intuitive. You learn to listen to your body, observe the environment around you, take the help you can get - in the end you become able to actively manage your buoyancy and with it your dive. Now replace dive by life and buoyancy by balance! What does scuba diving teach us about life in general? Actively checking and managing your balance is essential when it comes to psychological well-being. It’s key to observe where you are, “under water”, “swamped” or “floating just fine”. Becoming aware, being mindful is always the first step and there is a ton of good reads on how to practice mindfulness, a whole topic by itself which I’ll save for another time. Sometimes it’s hard to actively do it though. But even this first basic check you don’t have to do all by yourself. Look for the signals you get from your environment. In the beginning my scuba instructor always pointed around me as a cue to check my floating level and become aware myself. When I then realized I floated too high on a dive and couldn’t get down by myself my scuba instructor always had some extra weights with her. She would swim up to me, put them in my dive jacket and take my hand to “ground” me and guide me back to the group. But I had to let her know that I couldn’t do it all by myself, that was our deal. There was a cue we had agreed upon on the surface where everything gets prepared for a safe and fun dive. It’s good practice to agree upon cues with your colleagues and loved ones as well! When the waves pick up, we often don’t have time to negotiate or just talk through everything - good to be prepared, then all it needs is a small signal telling someone “It’s too much” or also “Everything is fine, I got this”.

Reliability, trust and support are key for any relationship, while scuba diving and certainly in life. My husband and I got certified on our honeymoon in Bali and scuba diving is a true buddy sport! I will never forget the moment when fear kicked in on one of our first dives. To get certified you have to show that you’re able to perform certain safety measures under water one of which is taking your dive jacket and with it the oxygen tank off your back and put it back on. This immediately makes you about 35lbs lighter, your body automatically floats up while you need to hold on to the gear on the ground and put it back on to successfully finish this exercise - a pretty funny picture for the ones around you, not quite for yourself! My husband / dive buddy looked me in the eyes through our goggles and without a word told me “You got this! I know you can do it”. And I did, all by myself but knowing that he would have had my back! Self-empowerment is another thing I learned from scuba diving: when I was a teenager, long before I got certified, I talked to my friend who had tried it already a couple of times and I was horrified to learn that water can and most likely will get into your mask and that you have to blow it out. I asked her if your scuba instructor can somehow do that for you. She just laughed and said that there is no way that anyone can do that for you! Taking cues and all the support you can get from your environment is perfectly right but some things which can only be done by yourself remain. You’re in charge and it feels good! Once the water is out you can see clearly again and Nemo might be right in front of you ready to play. Last but not least our scuba instructor shared a story about finding solutions, i.e. actively managing what needs to be done to be safe and balanced. She was on a dive with her boyfriend and all the sudden she couldn’t see right anymore. The glass of one side of her mask was broken and even though she was an experienced diver she freaked out and instinctively wanted to go straight up. Her boyfriend and dive buddy grabbed her fin and pulled her panicking self back down. As mentioned before a too fast ascend can hurt your lungs dramatically and send you into a decompression chamber as a best scenario. Her boyfriend signaled her to stay down, swap masks as a first step right where they were and then come up slowly with the required safety stops on the way. Her conclusion and teaching moment for us was “The solution is not on the surface”. Even if you want nothing more than getting out of the situation and all your instincts are wired towards doing so it’s sometimes worthwhile and safer to analyze, to explore and then make a conscious decision and act on it. When you check your balance next time, look around for cues, become aware, explore all possibilities, then take action yourself and look for those around you who can help you find the balance and strength you need. If you’re a leader, colleague, friend, spouse, parent or any kind of partner provide the cues to help your counterpart to reach awareness and take the right decisions, offer feedback and support, help ground but also trust in the capabilities of the people you deal with and encourage them to take action when they are ready to do so. Enjoy the float👌, live whole!


The author, Sonja Kirschner, is 40 years old, originally from Mannheim, Germany which she left 5 years ago to work and live in the New York metropolitan area. She has worked in different Human Resources roles for 15 years, all of them focusing on the development of people. Currently, she is in the process of getting her coaching certification. She has a master’s degree in Psychology and loves supporting people to reach their life goals. Please leave a comment or send a PM to connect.

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