Stay in your Lane

I spent 15 years of my life either in the water or at least partially damp. And I’m not exaggerating.  Why you may ask?  Well I am proud to say I belong to that special or crazy, depending how you look at it, crowd of competitive swimmers.  I absolutely love the way swimming makes you feel, unlike any other sport can.  It’s one of the most over trained sports out there and unless you’ve been a swimmer yourself you don’t really understand it.   If you don’t know just imagine a state of perpetual full body fatigue, insatiable hunger, and a fragrance of ”Pool eau de toilette” you carry, no matter if you just showered. Needless to say, having been a serious athlete for that long taught me many valuable lessons that no other medium can.  Discipline. Perseverance. Taking control of your thoughts, just to name a few. There is one trait though that I feel swimming instilled in me that I’ve had to wrestle with more than others to have it expressed in a healthy way.  It’s something that has impacted all areas of my life and as a culture we have super-sized like so many other things.  What is it you ask? Competitiveness.

Before I continue let me clarify a few things:

1) I do believe the appropriate expression of this trait is what has made us as a country that is the most generous and successful country there is.  However, the new levels it’s gone to has prompted me question many things about it.  American competitiveness has turned from spurring on growth and drive (in a way that unifies a mission) to a self-serving comparison game that really no one can ever win.  I like to call this pursuit “the invisible race.”  (It is something I’ll refer to often and in more depth)

2) Since I rededicated my life to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ almost 5 years ago the function of competitiveness in my character has been seriously challenged.  In me competitiveness so easily breeds comparison, comparison breeding insecurity and fear, and at the same time pride.  All dangerous things according to the truth found in the Bible.  The harvest these traits if left to grow or even fertilized in our hearts and mind is one of division, judgment, bitterness, and ultimately a death of your confidence. Strong words I know, but as someone who’s seen the good and the bad side of competitiveness I believe it’s a subject worth sharing.

Ok now that is out of the way and you know a bit more about the perspective I’m coming from let me make my point for today.  This comes from a lesson that my father taught me about competitiveness.   He would remind me over and over again when I’d get ready to race to “stay in your lane."

He wasn’t referring to just physically staying in my own lane (though that is sound  and yet obvious advice).  Rather, he was referring to the fact that in swimming, more so than many other sports, if you so much as turn your head a bit to catch a glimpse of what the swimmer next to you, you will inevitably slow yourself down.  This is due to a few factors:

1)    You’ve now messed up the flow and tempo of your stroke.

2)    You compromised your position in the water.

3)     Shifted your position in the lane (meaning you’re no longer swimming in a straight line and you’ve probably added at least .01 to your time).

In a sport all about the .01’s any potential gain from “knowing” where someone else is and how they are swimming is far outweighed by the consequences.

Now let’s take this lesson outside the realm of swimming and apply it to life in general.  How often do we slow ourselves down from the mission, vision, goals we’re laboring on because we stop to turn and compare ourselves to those around us?  We lose our momentum, we compromise the position we’ve been given, and we begin to veer off course.  In life though we take it even further to the point where we compare the goals we’re going after to those around us (which race we’re swimming).  When the fact of the matter is, aren’t we all swimming our own race anyway?  At the end of the day what does it really matter what someone next to you is doing? To be at our very best all of our energy, focus and passion must be focused on the simple task at hand.  The race only you can swim.  Others around you should only be looked at to encourage and spur you onto more for yourself but nothing else.  So again in the words of my dad "stay in your lane."