This week I started working at my new side hustle: I’m volunteering as a lifeguard at my local pool to acquire the requisite experience hours for a salaried lifeguard job with the city. I’m happy to report that I’m finding it just as exhilarating and rewarding as I expected.

Every job has discontents, and professional jobs are cushier than many other occupations, which makes whining about academia trite and tiresome. Still, the last few years have eroded much of what I enjoyed about my academic work environment, and finding myself in a new professional context was refreshing. I like the fact that people are measured and judged in a more straightforward, honest way on a job that involves a fitness/alertness component. I like the fact that the job is completely stripped of markers of prestige (I work alongside people of all ages, occupations, and walks of life.) But mostly, I’m immensely enjoying the service aspect of the job.

Lifeguarding offers a sublime combination of calm and focus. I sit by the water, which has always been my favorite place, and find a precious balance between the stillness of being of quiet service to people and the alertness to things that might happen before they happen. Empathy and perspective-taking are relevant to the job in surprising ways – most of the time one can prevent all kinds of calamities and crises not through heroic water rescues and CPR, but through anticipating what might happen, putting oneself in the place of a swimmer or exerciser, and preempting the problem by addressing their needs. The job offers varied avenues for service: lowering some of our senior swimmers to the water in a special chair, offering a toy to a kid, politely but efficiently moving people along lanes so that they are swimming with people at their speed, offering an aspiring triathlete a couple of pointers about their stroke. I’m really having a terrific time.

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