Jealousy in Swimming
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Since doing my weekly advice column called Mike’s Mailbag, I’ve received so many emails from swimmers asking, “How do I overcome my jealousy in swimming?” or “My teammates don’t work as hard as I do, yet they drop more time than I do. How can I let that go and focus on myself?”
Getting over jealousy is really, really hard. But you must. You have to. You will never become the swimmer you’re destined to be if you’re constantly trying to become someone else--or worse, constantly hoping someone else fails.
Jealousy is a constant in life, like road construction and income taxes. No matter who you are, you will, inevitably, experience jealousy at some point. Maybe you’re jealous of That Guy Who Never Works Hard But Swims Fast. Or it’s the Girl Who Got A Scholarship When You Didn’t. But at some point, you’ll feel it. And it will stink. Because unaddressed jealousy will manifest itself in other ways-- like bickering fights, resentment of a teammate, or plain poor performance. (After all, do you really expect to swim fast when part of you hopes for someone else’s disaster?)
How can you overcome jealousy in swimming?
Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years.
1. Don’t fight it.
When a fire burns, you don’t ignore it, right? Same thing with jealousy. When you’re at a swim meet, and you experience that first feeling of jealousy, don’t brush it aside. Don’t push it down. Acknowledge it. Look at it. You can’t fight a fire if you don’t know it exists.
Some of us push jealousy down because we’re scared we’re jealous. “I’m not jealous,” you’ll say, while eyeing that swimmer who just broke another record. We don’t want to be that type of person – the jealous type. The first thing you have to do is just admit that your jealousy is there, it’s real, and it’s not going to go away. Just acknowledging it’s there is an important step.
2. Imagine yourself removed from the situation.
Most of the time, we’re jealous because we put ourselves in the scenario: He beat me. He’s better than me. He doesn’t work as hard as me. But what are you really saying? You’re using a very self-centered approach to swimming, and life. Imagine that you weren’t swimming anymore. And your teammate was just a friend, and you’re walking down the hallway at school, and he or she says, “Guess what! I broke a state record!” If you weren’t swimming, you’d be really happy for them, right? You’d give them a hug, you’d high-five them, you’d be happy for them? But as soon as you’re involved, and the situation becomes about you, then you feel jealous again.
You’re not jealous of Olympic curlers, right? So why be jealous of your swimmer friends and teammates? You’re jealous because you’re witnessing their moments of greatness. But, maybe you should be happy because you’re witnessing their moments of greatness. Sometimes, all the difference is one word.
3. Realize every second you’re jealous is a second you’re taking away from yourself.
No one knows the value of a second more than a swimmer. Our lives are dictated by seconds, tenths, and hundredths. When a race comes down to .01, you have to realize that every second you spend worrying about someone else is another second you’re not spending improving yourself. Instead of asking, “Why him?” ask, “Why not me?” Then go do something about it. If you calculated all those minutes spent secretly jealous of someone else, then redirected that jealousy into something positive, who knows? Maybe you’d be up on that podium or swimming that best time.
4. Imagine that you’re the hero.
You’re watching a teen movie. There’s a group of mean girls in the movie. And you scoff: “How can those girls do that to each other? How can they be so mean?” It’s so easy to see poor behavior when it’s projected onto a TV screen, but when we’re immersed in it, we rarely realize our own poor behavior. We rarely realize that we’re the villains in our own real life movie.
Try this trick: Imagine you’re the hero. You star in your own movie. What do you do? What do you say? How do you act? If a million people were watching you, would you be the villain, or the hero? Imagine that you just lost a race to a teammate. Do you run to the locker room and talk bad about her? Do you write in your journal how you deserved to win instead of her? Do you make a snide remark? Or do you walk over to her, hug her, tell her nice job, and move on with your own training? Imagine that you’re the hero. Then be it.
5. Let it go.
The hardest thing in life is letting go. With people, with pets, with belongings, and with feelings. But sometimes it’s necessary to let go in order to move on. Let go of your jealousy. It does nothing. It doesn’t help you achieve what you want. It only wastes your own time, your own precious seconds in this short, fleeting existence. When you turn 90 years old, you don’t want to realize you’ve been jealous your entire life. Let it go. Then live your life. Imagine that it’s an actual thing—a piece of paper, perhaps. Wad it up. Put it in a hot air balloon. Let it sail into the sky, far away (where it will explode into a million little pieces or evaporate into nothingness.)
Let it go. Then go train hard. Swim hard. Laugh hard. Congratulate others. Realize that you’re not the most important thing in the universe. Then be your own hero. Be your own hero in your own real-life movie. And live your own life.
Jealousy is a drag, metaphorically and literally. Once you let it go, you’ll swim faster, be happier, and achieve more.