When I was in college, my swim coach often told me and my teammates to swim our own race. “You need to swim your race in your own lane,” he’d say. “You need to swim with blinders on.”
Back then, I didn’t understand the significance of those words beyond competitive swimming. I didn’t think of them as being applicable to life in general. But the metaphor is there — and I’m so grateful for it.
In swimming, it’s important to stick to your own race plan and pace. Looking from one lane to the next is an inefficient way to swim and an easy way to lose sight of your race and fall apart. There’s a time and place, usually toward the end of the race, for letting those around you motivate you and your race. There’s also a time and place, typically the majority of the race, for swimming with blinders on. For swimming your race in your lane. Yes, others can push you, but really, your pace and your push should come from within; they should come from you. It’s a strategic balance between swimming your own race and racing those in the lanes surrounding you.
To do that, you’ve got to be clear on your goals and how you’re going to pace your race — and train to be able to swim the race you want and need to swim — to achieve those goals.
This lesson and its relevance to life in general is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
A few Sundays ago, after a tough Friday and Saturday, I woke up and saw so clearly that I was not swimming my race in my own lane. I was playing the “comparison game,” as I like to call it. It’s a dangerous game. I’d played this game, to a different extent, while living in Buenos Aires, and it absolutely, positively did not serve me well there. Instead of swimming my race in my own lane, I was lifting my head and peaking at everyone else in the pool. A terribly inefficient way to swim — and live.
I’ve realized in living down here in Argentina, both in Buenos Aires and now in Bariloche, that I tend to compare myself to other expats. I don’t compare myself to the locals; I compare myself to the people who are most obviously like me in that we’re not native this country. I compare myself to them, their stories and their progress in building a community and a life here. It’s an unfair game. I don’t play it all the time, but I’ve played it enough to know it’s unhealthy.
To begin, I don’t know their full stories or the full extent of their lives here. Most have been here longer than I have, and we’ve all entered into this community at different points in time and in different ways. Some with a knowledge of Spanish. Some as part of or with the support of a community. And we’ve all arrived at different stages in our lives and with different resources at our fingertips.
Second, as I reflected a few months ago — yes, I’m learning this lesson again — my life is my own. My story is my own. My wants and needs are my own. It is so unfair to compare my life, my story and my wants and needs to others. I need to swim my race in my lane at my pace.
I need to live my life. I need to know my true north, and I need to follow my true north — not the magnetic north of others. This race — the race that is my life — is mine for swimming; my life is mine for living.
I’m realizing this is likely a lesson I’ll learn over and over again in life — hopefully to a lesser degree each time. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of the “comparison game,” especially with social media. It’s a human game that I think we all play from time to time. Sometimes it’s healthy; more often than not, it’s not. What I can see happening for me is that I’m not playing this game as long these days. I’m noticing more quickly when I fall into this pattern and calling myself out on it. Because the quicker I can shake myself of the distraction and get back to navigating toward my true north, the better.
That Sunday morning, after I woke up and called myself out for playing this game again, I got ready for church and walked to the bus stop. I felt better for having woken up with this clarity, for seeing the game I was playing for what it was.
I went to church. It was the first Sunday that I really started to understand the sermon (as the entire service is in Spanish). I recognized that the sermon was about the Prodigal Son. I didn’t understand every detail of the sermon, but I did understand far more than I had in past weeks.
Following the service, Mica — my best Argentine friend in Bariloche — invited me to an asado (a traditional Argentine barbecue) with her husband and a small group of friends from church. The Lord works in beautiful ways, and it was obvious to me that, as much as this was an invitation from Mica, this was also an invitation from God. An invitation to grow my community here in Bariloche.
So I accepted the invitation and went with Mica and her husband to their friend’s house. There were eight of us total. The men grilled meat (and vegetables for me) all afternoon. We sipped mate. We spoke in Spanish, obviously. We had a delicious late lunch / early dinner. We had brownies and ice cream for dessert. We played a board game. (I came in dead last, but it was still a great deal of fun.) I got to know six new people, and they were genuinely interested in me and my story, which felt really good. I wasn’t just a random American girl who’d joined them for the afternoon. I felt like part of the group, and I had a great time. I’d left home around 11:00 that morning, and Mica and her husband drove me home around 10:00 that night.
That day felt like a victory — a definite high note — amidst a relatively tough weekend. It is not lost on me that God played a role in that. It is not lost on me that God brought Mica into my life my first Sunday here in Bariloche back in June.
That Sunday a few weeks ago was a good reminder to remain patient and confident in the community and the life I’m building for myself here. It was a good reminder to remain focused on swimming my own race.
The following Tuesday, I was listening to a “Daily Hope” podcast episode from Pastor Rick Warren. As I was standing in my kitchen, the message of the shortened sermon cut through me.
In the sermon, Pastor Rick shared Hebrews 12:1: “Let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us.”
Pastor Rick then said, “Dedicate yourself, and don’t worry about trying to be like everybody else. God has a particular life course for you to run. And if you’re always looking at other people, you’re going to end up running their race. ‘Look what they’re doing with their life. Maybe I ought to do that.’ No, God has a particular life race for you to run, and nobody else can run it.”
Run your own race. The message was loud and clear.