Imagine you had some sort of a restriction that only allowed you to swim a strictly limited distance or limited time in each session, for the next 10 years. 

Let’s say you could only swim 30 minutes or 1500 meters and then you had to stop. How could you still extract pleasure and satisfaction from this swim each time?  

Well, the first obvious goal is to become capable of swimming that entire duration or distance continuously, with no rest. 

Then the next obvious goal is to try to swim farther in that time, or swim 1500 faster.

And, then you’d try to swim even farther or even faster. 

And, then… what? 

What else is there do with in 30 minutes of swimming? 

What else do you value that you could focus upon at that point in your development? What would keep you swimming for the decades to come, if you couldn’t extract more distance or more speed out of your body or budget for training? 

Another way of asking this is, “Is there something else besides distance and speed that brings you pleasure and satisfaction in swimming?” Perhaps, there is something that brings you more than those. 

It could be helpful to reflect upon astute observation: That which is easiest to measure often gets measured most. That which is measured most often gets prized the most (in one’s head, in an organization, in one’s culture, etc.). But that which is getting measured most may not necessary be what is most important. 

Distance and speed are the easiest things to measure in swimming. They are the easiest things to compete with. They are the easiest things to post and brag about on social media. Meanwhile, the subjective qualities of health, of movement, of efficiency, of sensory pleasure and flow state are not easily measured, they cannot be compared to another’s. Words and video clips on social media are unable to adequately communicate one’s genuine mastery or sublime experience in this subjective realm.  

It is common to see a person conquer one athletic goal and in the afterglow immediate seek out the next bigger thing. He just finished a season with a few sprint tris and next he’s going to try Olympic distance. Then after the Oly season, he’s going to aim for half IMs. Then try a full IM. Then after he’s done that, what’s left? To do more of them? To do harder ones? To go for Ultras?

What I lament in our culture is the lack of artists, a scarcity of genuine masters in the art of swimming. What would it look like to see more people among us who strive to master an event far beyond the dimensions of speed or distance? What would a masterful swimmer do with an event they have swum a hundred times over decades and keep coming back for more? What would they be paying attention to in their training? What kinds of pleasure and satisfaction would they be extracting from that event that others overlook in their haste to check it off their bucket list? 

The fact is, you will eventually reach the limits of how far or how fast you can go, if you haven’t already. It may be because of age or it may be because you can’t justify giving any more to training. But at some point you have to consider what other rewards you will extract from swimming when those can’t deliver any more. 

Or, you may have realized this already and have had the courage to swim against the current of our conquest-obsessed culture. This essay is here to validate your pursuit of mastery and pleasure in other dimensions that promise to reward you far more in the decades to come. 

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