Of the 101 things I’m passionate about, competitive swimming has always been one of them. Since I was three and my parents enrolled me in my first swimming class—and probably after I realized that, yes, you really can swim without floaties—swimming became one of the biggest parts of my life. I devoted almost every ounce of free time to training and competing for years and all throughout university. So it’s no wonder that I became infatuated with the commitment of the training, the determination to be ahead and the thrill of the very moment the buzzer signals you to dive into the freezing water and swim your heart out.
Other than the fact that I absolutely love the sport until now, the more I begin to look at the world through the lenses of experience, the more I realize just how much I learned from swimming competitively.
When I was around 10, there was no mercy in training. When you joined the team, you were basically signing a consent form to allow the coaches to scrutinize, alter and reprogram your every move. We were drilled down to the bone on every aspect of each stroke: how pointy your toes should be, which finger entered the water first and how many breaths you take. There was not a single detail overlooked or any ounce of potential that wasn’t squeezed out of you. Competition meant competition and even at 10, we all knew what that meant.
On the day of the competition, we would all nag the coaches for a bit of last minute advice; anything to repeat in our minds right before the race. But aside from the advice on how hard to kick or how strong our arms had to be, the one piece of advice I remember most was:
“Don’t look at the other swimmers in the other lanes. Focus on yourself.”
Have you had the “aha” moment yet?
Since I finished university, I’ve outwardly called myself the aimless graduate and have perfected my answer to the redundantly asked question, “what are you doing now?” (Apparently, when you tell people you’re taking some time off to “find yourself,” or even worse “live out your childhood dream,” you don’t exactly get the most approving looks in the world). I was always the one people expected so much from, complained that sky’s not the limit because there IS no limit and pushed on ambitions that would give me the added satisfaction of laughing in everyone’s face who said I was too much of a dreamer.
So somewhere along the lines I decided to set my own expectations and go after them, even if that meant slowing down to refocus.
(Image via Lauren Withrow)
But as an ambitious, trained competitor, focusing on yourself is always easier said than done. Just like in those damned races when I was 10, it was so hard not to look at the other lanes, compare yourself to the other swimmers and try to base THEIR progress as the reason to push yourself harder and swim faster.
Here I was, slowing down to refocus myself to a new path I was setting, and it became more and more difficult to follow that path when every single person around me was finishing that second degree, getting married or landing amazing jobs in big-named companies (friends who are reading this, don’t take this the wrong way! I am extremely happy for each and every one of you I promise!).
I struggled. I couldn’t bring myself to do what I wanted and I couldn’t bring myself to try and catch up. And just like in swimming competitions, that tends to slow you down. Obviously, of all the things I learned from swimming, not looking at the swimmers in the other lanes wasn’t my strong suit. But the reason the coaches kept telling us to focus on ourselves was because the most important person to compete with is YOU. If you could outdo YOUR limitations, if you could beat YOUR time, if you could bring yourself one step closer to goals YOU had set for yourself based on YOUR own capabilities, why did anyone else have to matter? In swimming, you would get just as high an award for beating your own time as you would if you managed to land first place. I’m starting to realize, life’s not that different.
So why is it we’re all fighting for first place now? I called myself aimless for so long and the funny part is I’m not the only one. We’re all whole bunch of aimless floaters cramming into the same boat because everyone’s too busy basing what to do next on other people.
What ever happened to doing what WE want to do and following OUR own goals and dreams? My 10 year old self reminded me of that so I’m finally doing it now. Are you?
: : : Now my eyes are wide open now that everything’s stolen and I’m here to get it back from you. See, I ain’t wasting no more time. I gotta take back what’s mine. What else am I supposed to do? : : :
— Under My Bed, Meiko —