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Jul 19 2016
by Emily Luong

3 Lessons I've Learned from Being a Lifeguard

By Emily Luong - Jul 19 2016
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While summer vacations are filled to the brim with concerts, beach getaways, relaxing pool days and exotic travels, for most teenagers – especially those who are headed to college in the fall – summer jobs are right up there on the list. With schedules free of school, teens across the nation enter the workforce to not only gain a little extra cash, but also first time exposure to what lies ahead of them in the near future in terms of a career. I have been a lifeguard for three consecutive summers so far. Although this experience has provided me with a financial safety net during my first year of college, it most importantly has taught me indispensable life lessons that are dear to my heart.

1. The world does not revolve around me.

I started lifeguarding when I was sixteen years old, an age of moody teenage rebellion, crippling self-consciousness and selfish entitlement. The minute I sat in the chair clutching my lifeguard tube for the first time, I realized that I was held accountable for the lives of perfect strangers, that I was in charge of another person’s well-being other than my own. That moment was the reality check that I so desperately needed to wrench myself out of my bubble of narrow-mindedness and overly dramatic self-pity. Moreover, I realized that I had to make sure that the facility was well-maintained. At the pool, cleaning bathrooms, clearing drains, sweeping floors, emptying the trash, washing decks - among others - are daily tasks that are expected of me as a lifeguard. Admittedly, such chores exceed those I have at home. After stepping up to be a part of something was bigger than myself, I have learned that it’s not just about me.

2. There are instances when things are beyond my control.

Another part of my job is teaching American Red Cross swimming lessons, a sometimes grueling experience when swimmers start to cry. As someone who has always had little patience for something as simple as waiting in line for food, interacting with young children was truly a test to see how well I could keep my cool. During my first encounters with hysterically crying children, I frantically put the blame on myself – I thought I was too intimidating, too harsh, too rough, too unfriendly. However, with experience, I began to see things from a child’s perspective and saw that the pool seemed like an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place. With this newfound knowledge, I have adapted my teaching style to put criers at ease with fun water games and reassuring praises. There will always be times when crying and screaming happen unexpectedly; therefore, the best thing one can do is must make the most out of it in the best way possible.

3. Don’t always be so quick to judge without knowing all of the facts.

While lifeguarding, I observe interesting things, among those are the ways in which parents care for their children. It can be so incredibly frustrating to repeatedly see a parent entirely focused on a conversation with another parent or a text message while his or her two year old toddler is left to waddle unsteadily closer to a deeper part of the pool. When I’m on the job, I remind parents to mind their own children better, in a civilized and respectful manner, while shoving my own opinions on their definition of parenting in the deepest depths of my mind. After all, what if the parent was simply having an off-day? Who am I to judge one’s parenting style when I am not a parent myself nor do I know that family’s current situation? Instead of automatically finding a person to blame, it’s best to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

I am by no means the perfect lifeguard – I make just as many mistakes as any other average person. Everyday on the job gives me a better appreciation for this seemingly "easy" occupation. After three summers of ups and downs, being a lifeguard has rewarded me with vital components of a healthy mindset that I will most certainly apply to my future career and beyond. 

Lead Image Credit: Autumn Mott via Unsplash

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Emily Luong - Smith College

Emily Luong is a first year student at Smith College (class of 2020) and plans to major in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. In high school, Emily was the Arts and Entertainment Editor of the school newspaper, an intern staff writer for the local newspaper, and the captain of the swim team. In her free time, Emily enjoys writing short stories, reading fantasy novels, and binge watching TV shows on Netflix. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @emilyjaieluong

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