The deep end of the swimming pool is the best place to be in order to change through conflict.

The deep end is where no one wants to go. It’s at the edge of the conflict universe, far away from the shallow center and a place for pioneers, adventurers and a place where safety is not a primary concern.

The deep end as an idiom describes all the ways that people used to respond emotionally to being put in situations that didn’t conform to the status quo, and that required a level of rebellion and non-conformity to confront and overcome. The idiom comes directly out of the last century, a time when personally, professionally, academically, and in every other way that mattered, challenging the safe, right, and easy path wasn’t as profitable as it is now.

We use the phrase “off the deep end” to mean that we have been involved in a situation, or trapped in a behavior, that we have no previous experience in handling, and that we feel so uncomfortable in, that it feels like death.

Of course, out on the edge of the universe, out in the deep end of the pool, we might drown. Or we might just decide to suck it up and persevere, gaining grit and resilience in the end.

Bringing up the importance of swimming in the deep end is somewhat problematic these days, in a public culture that’s built around filing down the rough edges and hammering down the nails that insist on not being hammered down. This is an interesting phenomenon, because there have never been more opportunities to be weird, to stand out, to go to the end of the emotional universe, and to jump willingly into the deep end of the pool of emotional experience.

There are few strategies for managing getting into the deep end:

Realize that you won’t die—the pool of conflict is deep on purpose, so confronting your boss, your co-worker, you parents, or someone else who you think has power over you about their conflict behavior and choices, won’t result in death. Just you being uncomfortable for a while.

Realize that the deep end is where real changes happen—getting excited about the new Iphone or Samsung phone is not a change. Going to the deep end with another person on their behavioral choices that have impacted you negatively is a change. And change always happens at the edges of confrontation and away from the safe, chunky middle.

Realize that, of course you can’t handle it, that’s why you’re doing it—just responding to a conflict (i.e. with accommodation, avoidance, confrontation, collaboration, or compromise) in the ways that you’ve always been comfortable responding is what you’ve always been able to handle. Moving away from that safety emotionally and behaviorally will feel scary, uncomfortable, and will yield results that you couldn’t have imagined. Because you had no basis from which to imagine them in the first place.

If you’re not doing something every day, to change how you address conflict behaviors in your life, you are placing yourself in the shallows of life. And when a real storm comes, and it always does, the deep end of life will come and visit you, instead of the other way around.