I just started swimming masters. Masters swimming is like a coed swim team. It’s an organized workout with a coach. This was a huge step for me as it has been years, decades almost, since I have trained with a group of people. I grew up swimming competitively and quit swimming at the age of 15 to pursue boys. I can thank my hormones for that.
Swimming masters has brought up a number of interesting topics that affect me both in and out of the pool. One of those is competition. The second is why I like “swimming in the trenches” with others. I was talking to a friend the other day and was telling her about a recent practice during which I was sharing a lane with a guy. Initially I had the lane to myself and was a very happy camper. When the guy dove in and I had company, I wasn’t so happy. But I swallowed my territorial pill and sucked it up. Yes, I am well aware of my immaturity and my not so lovable quirks.
I was telling my friend how much I ended up enjoying swimming the workout with the guy in my lane. Had I been alone, I don’t think I would have been as motivated. In fact, when the workout was over and we were exiting the pool, the guy and I gave one another props for completing the set together. He then made a joke and thanked me for not lapping him. In that instant, I remembered a Sunday morning workout where I had been swimming with another guy who was ridiculously fast. I remember having moments during that workout where I questioned my talent and presence in his lane. At the end of the workout, I too wanted to kind of make an excuse for my being in this fast man’s lane. But instead, he surprised me as he gave me a high five and let me know how happy and satisfied he was that I completed the workout with him in his lane.
Similar to the sentiments of the other man on that Sunday morning, I turned to the guy who was now apologizing for his presence in my lane and said, “No, thank you! I don’t think I would have been able to have done that workout had you not been in my lane. It’s always nice to have someone to be in the trenches with”.
This is when my friend posed her question. Why do I like “swimming in the trenches” with others? I think there is something to be said about overcoming a challenge with a competitor. The fact is, competition is more fun when you’re competing with someone you respect. Whether it’s in the pool or in life, respect and understanding are clearly things we humans need.
No one likes to be misunderstood or disrespected. When you’re working toward the same goal with a peer, there’s a level of understanding and appreciation for the other person’s dedication and hard work. It’s almost as if they’re on your journey with you while you’re pursuing your goals, whatever those goals may be.
As much as people want to be individuals and achieve their own level of success, which differentiates them from their peers, there tends to be a loneliness of sorts when it comes to reaching for your dreams all by yourself. People need to feel supported, and support comes from understanding. It’s the ability of others to not only be sympathetic but empathetic.
As I thought about my friend’s question, I began to think about a variety of situations where I thrived while “swimming in the trenches” with others. This was a common theme at my job in the entertainment industry. Working as a team, my co-workers and I would bond over our insane deadlines and insurmountable workloads. There was just this level of, “I get what you’re going through” that enabled us to connect on a much deeper level. I also found it to be something like an invisible force pushing us all to be more innovative and creative. Like a giant relay team, each one of us was responsible for holding the baton and being on top of our game.
There are, in fact, situations where being in the trenches with others is not so awesome. Unfortunately I think we all can identify with this. It’s those times when we feel as though our peers are not holding up their end of the bargain. There’s nothing more annoying and frustrating than when a colleague shuns responsibility and accountability and chooses to play the “ME game”. While I always secretly wish these people would mysteriously disappear, they somehow manage to keep showing up. I’ve learned how to look past these people’s incompetence as I feel sorry for them. Not only do they not take pride in what they do, I think it’s sad that they may spend their whole life never knowing what’ it’s like to have someone else bring out the best in them.
While I’ve never thought about how important it is to “swim in the trenches” with others, I’m beginning to see what an important role it plays especially when we’re competing. Whether we’re competing with ourselves or others, we all need a little push every now and then and sometimes our own engines just get tired. They run out of steam. Sometimes all it takes is a jump from a team player to reboot and revive our inner fire and get us up and running again.