By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, November 20, 2017
Every Monday online at USASwimming.org and inside each issue of Splash Magazine, I answer questions about competitive swimming from swimmers around the country. If you have a question that you’d like answered, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll do my best to answer your question.
I have been a swimmer for ten years. My life has revolved around swimming. However, in the past 4 years, I have started to realize that I am no longer loving the sport. It isn't bringing me the joy that it used to bring me. I have not swum a single race that I am happy about in the past 3 years. The amount of tears that I have cried due to bad races could probably fill up the whole pool. I truly feel like swimming has greatly contributed to crushing my confidence in the past few years. I have been on three teams in the past 2 years (simply because of team dynamics and changes), but I feel really lost. I love my teammates, but there is so much more in my life that I want to explore. For example, I want to explore my passion for photography, my love of journalism, and my interest in psychology. With swimming though, I feel like my time is always consumed with either swimming, thinking about swimming, or worrying about college swimming.
My question for you, Mike, is: When is it time to quit? I am a really motivated person, and I don't like to give up, but this sport is really eating me up. I am not happy anymore whenever I am at the pool. (I am generally a really happy person). Is it okay to tell myself that it is time to quit, or does that make me weak? Am I giving in by quitting?
Please Help Mike, I am truly lost--
Hey, Lost —
A long time ago, I took a job I wasn’t that passionate about. It was a job. It paid my rent. I needed the money. But every single day, I walked into work with my mind elsewhere — I was easily distracted, grumbled and complained a lot, and never really felt like I had my “head in the game.” The money was good, and I kept doing it, while at the same time, telling myself, “I’ll just keep with this job until something better comes along.”
Weeks turned into months, and months turned into a year. Nothing had improved. I wasn’t enjoying myself. Wasn’t enjoying the job. Wasn’t enjoying my life. And I knew I would be happier doing something else, even if it meant taking a pay cut.
At the end of that year, I’d had enough. I quit my job. Within a few weeks, I was doing things that I was more passionate about, pursuing fun projects, enjoying life again. I was still paying rent, still earning money, and I wondered, “Why did I wait so long to follow what my heart was telling me to do?”
I’ve since learned that timing — knowing when to say yes, and knowing when to say no — is one of the hardest things in life to perfect. We are often faced with difficult decisions: Should I chase this major, knowing there isn’t much financial success? Or should I go with something more dependable, even if I’m less passionate about it? Should I quit swimming, even though I’ve done it for ten years? Or should I continue on and hope things get better?
Yes, timing is difficult. But I’ve also learned that we can’t just sit around and “hope” for things to get better. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves to make the changes we need to make — whether that means adjusting our attitudes, diving into a challenge, or moving on to something else. If we are unhappy with our situation, we can’t expect it to resolve itself. We just have to take some kind of action and responsibility, even if that responsible choice is to move on.
You’re asking about quitting swimming. I just don’t know what to tell you. You are right: Swimming is a major time commitment, does take up a significant part of your day and daily energy. As we get older and more advanced in the sport, the sport takes up more and more of our time. I can’t tell you if you should quit or not. Only you can do that.
Here’s what I can tell you: If you don’t adjust your attitude about swimming, you won’t enjoy it. If you don’t step back and re-imagine what you love about this sport, why you first started doing it, what you enjoy about it, you probably will continue to resent the fact that you’re doing it.
Here’s what else I can tell you: It’s okay to have other passions. It’s okay to want to do other things. Just because you swam when you were ten-years-old doesn’t mean you have to swim when you’re seventeen. Often, we feel like we have to keep doing something tomorrow just because we did it yesterday.
Don’t misunderstand: Swimming is not going to be this merry, “I love everything every day” experience. It’s a sport, it’s a challenge, it’s tough work. But if you can’t step back and take a week to re-analyze why you’re doing it, and re-calibrate your attitude, and learn to love it all over again, chances are, you might regret doing it.
My advice? Take a two-week break. Go do photography. Go read some books about journalism. You can talk to your coaches, parents, and friends, too — it won’t hurt. But only you can decide which path in life to take. Only you know where your heart is, and how to chase what your heart is telling you to do. I wouldn’t flat-out quit competitive swimming… Take a breather, not a complete break. See how you feel. Monitor your stress levels, your feelings, your passions. Take small steps towards your own happiness, or what you think will make you happy.
Go slowly, but always go in the direction where your gut and your heart are telling you to go. Do this, and decide with heart, you’ll never regret a decision made.
I hope this helps.