How many times have you been faced with a decision that could have varying consequences ranging from minimal impact all the way to potential disaster? During my 47 years at Blue Buoy Swim School as a teacher, partner and now owner, I have made many such decisions dealing with students, customers, facility operations and staff. Most of the time, my actions have led to acceptable or even excellent results. But a few decisions have led to quite unexpected outcomes that bordered on catastrophic.

One event stands out, and reminds me to this day that I always need to think through the possible consequences before I act. It was some 37 years ago when I started adding maintenance responsibilities to my teaching schedule. The owner, Mel Maxwell, had entrusted me to run the school while he and his wife were on a trip.

We were having heater issues and I had learned a little trick to troubleshoot probable causes. This involved inserting a jumper wire at the gas valve connections to see if the problem was a high-limit switch, pressure (flow) switch or thermostat. We were experiencing a cold California Santa Ana wind condition and the water temperature was dropping fast. So I decided to try the old “jumper” trick to see if I could get the heater working. When I bypassed the pressure switch, the heater fired right up. I had a few errands to run, so I left to take care of them and returned in a few hours.

Well, when the winds are blowing as hard as they do during our Santa Ana conditions, a lot of leaves usually fly into the pool, and many find their way into skimmer baskets and pump strainers. Imagine my distress when I walked into the pump room, heard the sound of metal groaning and felt the heat emanating from the heater, which was glowing red! Then I noticed that the pressure on the filter read “zero” and realized that the pump had lost prime. In a panic, I quickly shut it off, re-primed and was certain that the water would help cool down the boiler. I breathed a sigh of relief … which lasted about five seconds. I heard the horrible cracking sound of the heater core reacting to the cold water passing through its red-hot pipes. A rush of water running through the cracks soon flooded around my feet. At that moment, I learned a valuable lesson about “what’s the worst thing that could happen.”

After Mel and Doris returned and we installed a new heater, I was fearful of my continued employment. When I spoke to Mel about my concern, he simply said, “Why would I fire you after I just spent hundreds of dollars on your education?”

In reflection, the safer course would have been to replace the faulty switch instead of trying to save time.

Three decades later, this lesson still serves to remind me that there are consequences for all of our actions. Whether it is deciding to push through that yellow light, leave a child alone in a pool, let emotions get the better of you when dealing with others, or choosing to ignore safety procedures, the “worst thing” is always out there.

Our lives present us with these kinds of situations on a daily basis. We just need to take a little extra time and consider the potential consequences before making a decision and taking action. We will never eliminate the risk, but we will certainly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Unfortunately, too many of us continue to find out the hard way “the worst thing that could happen.” That’s called “experience!”

The Lessons

1.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, stop doing it. It turned out that I knew just enough about pool heaters to be dangerous. That pressure switch was there for a reason. Call in an expert if you aren’t positive you can do the job properly.

2.  If you make changes to equipment, monitor it until you’re sure it’s OK. If I had stayed around and checked the heater after making my temporary fix, I might’ve caught my mistake before it was too late.

3.  Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Because it just might!