September 8, 2008

Swimming from Regrets

The other day I was walking around the neighborhood and suddenly realized I had a big regret: for nearly two years, I had the chance to learn how to swim, and I kept putting it off. Now, my chance was gone, and I wished I could get it back.

Technically, I know how to swim. If you threw me in the water, I wouldn’t drown. I just mean that I’m a terrible lap swimmer. To recover from running injuries, I’ve sometimes added a weekly swim to my workout routine, but I’ve never enjoyed it. I’ve always known that a big part of my lack of enthusiasm comes from lack of knowledge, but I’ve never done anything about it.

Every academic quarter for the past two years, I thought about signing up for an intermediate swimming class, where I’d finally learn to breath better and correct a lot of my improvised (read: flawed) technique. But every quarter, something always came up.

A couple of times there was a schedule conflict. Once, the class filled up too quickly. Sometimes I didn’t realize when the deadline was, and by the time I thought of it again, it was too late. All good reasons (well, except for forgetting about it), but I believe that we make time for what’s important to us.

If it was important to me to become a better swimmer, I could have found a way to take the class.

But now, it’s too late. I’ve finished my graduate program and no longer have access to the nice university classes and the awesome student athletic center. I do pushups at home and run outside at least four times a week, so I’m keeping fit… but there’s no other Olympic-sized pool and amazing gym nearby.

It’s kind of sad. One of my most important values is to live life with no regrets, and while walking around my neighborhood the other day, I realized I had let one slip past me. I had let myself down; I saw it clearly this week, but I missed it when it counted.

***

I’m making a 5-minute internet movie that I’ll share with you when it’s done, but for now, the theme has to do with Time and Money. Another thing I believe is that in most cases, with most regrets we have, there is still enough time to do something about it.

We can’t change the past, and we might not be able to do exactly what we should have done a long time ago – I probably can’t take the University of Washington class, since I’m not a student anymore – but there’s often an alternative.

Sitting down on the curb outside my apartment, I composed this list of alternatives for my own situation:

  • There are two community pools within three miles of my apartment. They might not be awesome, but since I’m basically learning how to really swim for the first time, it shouldn’t matter that much.
  • There are YMCA classes I can take. Again, they’re probably not the same style as the university classes – but I’m a low-intermediate swimmer, not the next Michael Phelps.
  • Tim Ferriss recently wrote about the Total Immersion method. His swimming story sounds identical to mine – he tried over and over on his own, but never got into it. This DVD helped him, so maybe I’ll check it out.
  • In his running/writing memoir, Haruki Murakami mentioned that he hired a private swim coach to help him improve the skill. A “private swim coach” sounds expensive at first glance, but I just need a couple of 30-minute lessons. That shouldn’t be too much, and if I’ve been putting this off for two years, it’s probably a good investment.

I’m not 100% sure which of these alternatives I’ll go with… but I will do something about my regret. I know that if I don’t at least try, I’ll always feel another twinge of regret whenever I hear someone talk about swimming.

If there’s anything I don’t want, it’s a life of regrets. That’s why I started writing on this site, that’s why I travel, that’s why I do anything I can to avoid working a real job, and on and on. It’s not to say that anyone who makes different choices will regret them. But for me, I would not be content if I didn’t do these things.

Living life to the fullest while helping others is what it’s all about.

Some might view my failure to take swimming lessons as a small regret compared to what they consider to be more major life failures. In a way, it’s true – if my biggest regret right now is not learning to swim, I suppose I’m doing OK.

But on the other hand, small is not the same thing as inconsequential. When it comes to regrets, that old saying about how if you don’t deal with the small things, you’ll end up making bigger mistakes was in my mind as I thought about this. I’m not sure if it’s completely true or not, but I don’t want to risk it.

Life is too short to miss out on learning and the living. We’ve got art to create, businesses to grow, worlds to conquer. And as for me, I’ve got some swimming lessons to go to.

My question for you is:

Do you want to live with no regrets? How’s that going?

###

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20 Responses to “Swimming from Regrets”

  1. Another nice post Chris.

    What I really appreciate about your posts is that they give me a perspective to take a look at my life situation without making a comparison to your life (or anyone else’s).

    Thanks for your insight.

    peace, Rick

  2. Thanks, Rick! I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts.

  3. Chris, I been exactly where you are. Over two decades ago at 31 I was wishing that I had the chance to train in the martial arts. Finally, I got my lazy self to look around and research some. Then, I got started training and fell in love. That was 21 years ago. I have been training and enjoying the benefits ever since. My advice while not profound is simple… Just sign up and do it. There is no perfect but you can get started. You could even just go to the same pool every day at the same time for a week, make a few friends and ask a few questions of the really good swimmers. regards.

    Wayne

  4. Tim Ferris’s post caught my eye too — I almost drowned in Lake Michigan several years ago, plus our building has a pool I should be taking advantage of.

    Some of the negative reviews of the Total Immersion program convinced me it wasn’t all it was hyped to be, though.

    I’ll be curious to know what good classes/coaches you find in the area.

  5. What I’m currently regretting is not having my laptop with me on campus – but that distracts me during class. This keyboard sucks!

    Actually, what I really am currently regretting (I was thinking about it on the bus on the way to class this morning) is that I’m not traveling as much as I would like to. It’s not that I can’t afford to, but the main part of the problem is that almost all of my friends are broke-ass college students who can’t really get their crap together to save up a thousand bucks or more for a trip. I would like to go alone, but truthfully, as a female, I’m absolutely, utterly terrified of traveling overseas by myself.

    And so I wait. And watch ticket fares online. And stash money so eventually I can take the many trips of my dreams.

  6. September 8, 2008

    Travis Robertson

    Hey Chris,

    I’ve got to compliment you on your timing with this post. I recently turned 31 years old and (about an hour ago) received a great piece of news from the doctor that I don’t have chronic/life threatening disease.

    While that seems wholly unrelated to swimming (it is), I spent the last week and a half waiting for results on my future while contemplating my past. I will tell you that I had more “regrets” than I wanted to admit even though my life has been what many would consider to be exciting and interesting.

    I started to wonder, “If I could do it all over again, is this how I would have done it?” Not surprisingly, the answer was mixed. It depended on what I was thinking about re-doing.

    But I will tell you that I started to think about how I would be living my life from here on out – regardless of the results and length. Things need to change. And they are. I’ve decided to start my own company and begin writing a blog – two things I’ve put off for FAR too long.

    I’ve greatly enjoyed your blog and you’ve helped inspire me to something more. Thank you for your hard work and your dedication to making a difference in the lives of others.

    Cheers,
    Travis

  7. Things I regret not doing: buying google stock when they went public, buying Amazon.com stock, investing when I was younger. My excuse? Ignorance + lack of money. My plan? Get educated and start saving money so that I can invest it.

    Things I would have regretted not doing, but I had the guts to go through with and I’m glad I did: Staying in graduate school, getting married, spending 2 months in Tanzania.

  8. I’ve tried a few of the Total Immersion techniques, and they’ve worked for me. I’m still not a proficient lap swimmer, but it looks a little less like I’m drowning every time I get into a pool. I think the TI classes are WAY overpriced though. >$500 for a two day swim course with a bunch of other people? Craziness. Why not post an ad on Craigslist and see if there’s some college student who’s willing to teach you for cheap?

  9. Chris,

    Great post! Here is another alternative to consider. Nearly every community has a club swim team with coaches that have typically been swimmers at the collegiate level. Swim clubs are ALWAYS short on volunteers. Why not trade a skill you have or time at a swim meet for a couple of 30 minute lessons? What a great way to learn a skill and give something back to an organization that can likely use a bit of your enthusiasm and advice.

    Here are several clubs in your area:

    Bellevue Swim Club – http://www.bcst.com/(Bellevue, WA 98004)
    Cascade Swim Club – http://www.cascadeswimclub.org/ (Seattle, WA 98177)
    Central Area Aquatic Team – http://www.swimcaat.org/ (Seattle, WA 98122)

    Salmon Bay Aquatics Team – http://www.salmonbay.org/ (Seattle, WA 98127)

    Let me know what you find out.

    JZ

  10. We can’t have everything we want is the most basic principle of economics. When we optimize and choose the best option we may regret the things we didn’t do because they clashed with our choice. So I guess one sort of no-regrets is not regretting the things we were forced not to do. On the other hand there are things which we could have done with little loss or trade off and didn’t do. Seems that’s more what you are talking about. An economist would call that being “inefficient”, whereas the first is an efficient trade off – that’s the best we could do. I guess there is a third case where we thought we were doing the best we could but were wrong. Here the regret is similar I think to the first case. We can focus on regretting or try to “move on”.

  11. Someone very wise once told me that your whole life changes once you realize that there is exactly enough time for everything that is really important to you.

  12. Chris,

    I don’t put up with regret, either. I can’t say that there aren’t times when this or that keeps me up at night, but on the whole, I’m pretty good at accepting what’s happened and managing failure. That’s an important part of the equation. If I sucked at it, I would be too distracted to focus on my goals.

    -Linnea

  13. Chris,

    First, thanks for your articles, I found “you” about a month ago and have gone through the archives and enjoyed all the current things. This article was one that I had to respond to. I am living my life without regrets right now in a lot of ways but it is exhausting and frightening at times.

    An overview: I was working full time, going to school part time for a masters in elementary ed, for the last two years. Then this semester I had to go to part time work due to part time student teaching required (in January I will quit work to full time student teach). So at this time I work 24 hours a week getting paid, work two more days as a student teacher, take 2 masters classes a week (required to qualify for student loans).

    Then I have a daughter just starting college and she choose a private and expensive one – good choice in the long run but filling me with fear as she and I are both having to take out student loans. I wanted her to do this because I do not want her to have any regrets or have to be 40 something and going to school for the profession that is her desire-as I am. One reason for my draw to your blog is that I have a huge desire to have no debt, live simply and with contentment. I want to always embrace the amazingness (word?) of what I am doing but at times I have to fight my fatigue and fears.

    Do you know what I mean? Do you have any suggestions? There are a lot of critics in this world that think I am crazy to do what I am doing and to encourage my daughter to do what she is doing but honestly we would have regrets if we were not doing this so we are being true to ourselves, I just wonder if the price for that is too high.

  14. Hey all, nice conversation. Thank you for adding your thoughts.

    I’m headed out this afternoon on my final “big trip” of 2008. Does anyone have any feedback for Val?

    (Val, I admire your hard work and desire to embrace the amazingness of the world, in the midst of challenging circumstances. Feel free to write in on my Contact page sometime.)

  15. One more thing –

    @John,

    Thanks so much for doing all that research! Wow. I’ll check up on all these ideas when I get back home in two weeks.

  16. @Val

    If you don’t already have a financial plan for the present and future, you could find a good planner to guide you. If you already have a plan, a planner could double-check your numbers and help allay fears. Your daughter should be a part of all of this too. Also, at the end of each semester she should evaluate how she feels about her major and her post-college plans. You don’t want to get too far into a college program and then find out it’s not really what you want.

    I don’t think there is any preparation in high school to help students decide what to study and how that will play out after college. I changed my major (and college) once and would have done it a second time if I’d had the money.

  17. Chris, it is easy to blame yourself for things that didn’t go the way you planned, but sometime life just gets in the way. Taking action is what separates those on the way to world domination from those that just get by.

    Good point about importance. I’ve often found that things I think I want aren’t always what I really want.

  18. hey Chris– great post, and funny that it’s about swimming… I was in a similar space as you about 6 months ago, so I ended up joining a Los Angeles swim team, and found I enjoy it so much that I now have a private coach and am hoping to compete in my first master’s event at the end of the year. my only regret is not starting sooner!

    just a few lessons will definitely give you the instruction to improve your stroke and I strongly suggest having a friend video you from the deck, to help you see your stroke from outside the water… it’s something my coach does and it’s helped me enormously. we just use my normal canon point-and-shoot and video a little 30 second clip of me swimming a couple of laps, that’s enough for me to see everything I need.

  19. Chris,

    Thanks for using my photo for this blog post (and using the attribution back to its Flickr page).

    I am actually a long-time swimmer, having swam competitively as a child and then swimming in college for a division 1 program. I absolutely love to swim – as a sport, as an exercise, as stress relief.

    I still swim now on a master’s team, and similar to what John recommended above, I suggest you find a master’s swim club in your area. Masters teams have a range of abilities and experience levels, and there are a lot of people who are looking for just basic instruction. It’s also helpful to be around others in a similar situation – there’s a lot of encouragement and learning from each other that can happen as well.

    I see that you’re in the Seattle area, and this is the list of swim clubs in the Pacific Northwest area who are registered with the US Masters Swimming organization: http://www.swimpna.org/where_to_swim.htm

    Let us know how it goes!

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