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On Being a Lifelong Lifeguard

Certainly not the worst view to have at work

January 29th, 2015. I have until January 29th of my senior year to decide whether or not I’m going to renew my certification or hang up my bathing suit for good. Part of me wants to let it time out, as a way of eliminating the economic security blanket I had obtained as a sixteen year old. No matter where I ended up, I knew that I could make money pulling panicky kids out of the 2 feet section. But I’m also totally sick of putting bandages on non-existent cuts and watching in horror as my sunblock does little to stop my skin from turning bright red. If I let it time out, then there will be no way I can slack on finding a new job, because I won’t have a backup plan—I would have to get it together.

On the other hand, wouldn’t it be horrible if I didn’t renew it, and then couldn’t find a job, couldn’t pay off my student loans, and couldn’t  pay my bills or subscription to Netflix?! I like having a job, no matter how low paying, and my mental health will surely suffer if I enter a period of unemployment. Plus I’ve learned so many great lessons while sitting poolside. Aside from the ever-useful skills of CPR, First Aid, and proper use of the AED, my favorites include: how to play Sporcle while also fulfilling the needs of patrons; how to wear a red sports bra and underwear and convince everyone that it’s actually your bathing suit; how to wear your bathing suit, sweatpants, whistle, and flip-flops as the most comfortable Halloween costume ever; how to find the perfect napping position on a hard plastic lounge chair; how to time your exit from the staff room so as to minimize the amount of time spent in the complete downpour outside (related: how to get paid for watching an empty pool).

Best Halloween costume ever, despite being a total creative cop-out.

These lessons, however, are not going to make my LinkedIn any more appealing than it is now. So in the spirit of actually getting my Netflix-addicted self hired, here are some of the more universally applicable lessons I learned in my guard suit:

  1. Wear sunscreen. This is non-negotiable. One-piece tan lines are not cute, but even if they were, cancer isn’t. Suck it up and put the Coppertone on.  Your health is important.

  2. Some people are going to treat you like you’re inferior. The fact that you are only eighteen doesn’t mean you’re any less of an adult than they are. What it means is that they need to pay their guest fee and stop sassing you about it, because if they were really adults they would stop picking on you and just follow the rules. Do your job, regardless of how they berate you.

  3. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, at least while you’re off the stand. This includes the kids who won’t stop hanging on the diving board or pretending to drown. By all means, yell at them to cut it out when they’re impairing your ability to monitor the rest of the facility. But on your break, show ‘em some love. I like to think there’s a greater commentary here about wanting to be perceived positively by others, and acting out as a means to that end.

  4. Wear your sunscreen and get over the fear that your tan will not be bronze enough.

  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s not the end of the world if you forget to clock out or if you embarrass yourself in front of your coworkers. It happens; no one is actually perfect. You’re supposed to work as a team, so it’s infinitely better if you’re not self-conscious around them.

  6. On the other hand, take yourself seriously when it comes to knowing what you’re doing. You’re not certified in AED usage for nothing, so you better know how to use it if emergency strikes. Similar real world applications include: not putting fake skills on your résumé. If you don’t actually know how to speak Russian, don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to have to speak it.

  7. If you have to leave a workplace, leave with grace. Don’t quit in the middle of a busy season, or be disrespectful to the people who took a chance by hiring you in the first place. You’ll only hurt your own reputation in a really unnecessary fashion.

I still haven’t decided where my future lies (and I’m certainly not going to be practicing for the timed portion in the middle of the winter), but I can say that I learned a lot over my almost-six years as a certified lifeguard. From the experience, I have a wealth of knowledge (regarding both First Aid and general awesomeness) and can’t wait to see if what I think I’ve learned is still applicable in a non-aquatic setting (let’s hope so).

Photo Credit: Meaghan Leahy

Meaghan Leahy is a 21-year-old native New Yorker and senior at Boston College, whose hips only sometimes lie. When she's not wishing she were as honest as Shakira, she can be found running, Band-ing, or public speaking; in addition to writing for HC BC, she is a member of the Screaming Eagles Marching Band, Word of Mouth, and loves a good lap (or two, or five) around the Res. Meg is passionate about running and fitness, is a trained lifeguard, and works at the campus gym Equipment Desk. A highlight of her Boston College career thus far was being a TA for Intro to Feminisms. She has interned at both Anthropologie and the Supreme Court in Brooklyn, New York, so even though she is pursuing a Communication and English double major with a Women's and Gender studies minor, she is still trying to map it all out. She really, really hopes to graduate with a real job and everything. Please hire her, despite her severe Diet Coke addiction. Her redeeming skills and qualifications can be found on her LinkedIn account.
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