Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word selfish as, having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people. If I were to pick this definition apart and play devil’s advocate, I’d ask, “Does focusing on yourself have to be a bad thing especially if it isn’t at the expense of others?” Everyone’s so quick to name-call and conclude that certain people or their actions are selfish but some of these allegations are false positives. They lack the additional information one would need to prove the other person’s selfish actions are in fact, selfish.
When we’re young, people tell us how important it is to play a sport. While we might know and “get” this, I’m not sure I ever really “got” it until now. Unfortunately I’ve been predictable in that I’ve taken for granted the things that have come naturally to me or the special experiences I have encountered on a daily basis.
Despite the fact that I was told and even reminded of all the positive lessons a sport would teach me while growing up, no one actually told me how the most important lesson I’d learn was to be selfish and self-assured. Yes, they mentioned the obvious things like team building, hard work, dedication, persistence, practice, how to win gracefully and lose without losing your mind. These are all valuable lessons; but there is so much more. When we gravitate toward things we enjoy doing, we find ourselves operating on our highest level. We’re happy. While we might not have fun every second of every moment, for the most part, we’re engaged and beyond content. We laugh, we cry, we have good days and bad days, but what I have found to be most important is the bond we establish with ourselves and others. There is mutual respect and we encourage our teammates to be selfish.
Not only am I my most confident self when I’m in a swimsuit cap and goggles, but I’m selfish and so are my competitors and peers. Our definition of selfish is completely different from how other people define that word. Our selfishness comes from our desire to be our best and put ourselves first but not at the expense of others. We may not introduce ourselves before asking someone to help us put on our racing suit, and we may even walk away never knowing that person’s name, but it doesn’t matter. There is a level of understanding where the casual interactions that other people might consider rude or selfish in another venue, are interpreted differently in the swimming culture. There’s a unique level of acceptance and honesty and perhaps that’s what helps create that precious bond we come to know.
This bond and ability to be selfish even translates to our gender and the way we view and appreciate our athletic bodies. We learn to love the way we look despite the fact that our bodies may not emulate Victoria Secret models and cover girls. I have broad shoulders and muscles. I’m never going to be a stick, but I’m not sure I want to be. Can you picture some runway model in a high tech swimsuit standing behind a starting block ready to swim a 400 Individual Medley? Of course I still worry about “being fat” but that’s just something I think we women tend to do. I think it is a negative result of the images we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. It’s hard to ignore. When I look in the mirror now, I’m selfish. I choose to see an athlete. I see a woman who’s working her way toward a goal that doesn’t involve fitness as a form of diet, but as a way to express my passion.
With age and time, I’ve become more aware of just how special participating in a sport can be and the significant and positive impact it can have on a person’s life. I’ve also learned how important it is to be selfish. If being selfish means taking care of yourself, allowing yourself the opportunity to pursue your interests, and protecting the people who love and support you, that describes me. Being selfish doesn’t mean that you don’t think about others, and it shouldn’t deny you the luxury of thinking about and focusing on yourself. I believe that the more you value yourself, the more value you bring to others. It’s a gift when people are able to see one another in a way they wish to be seen. It’s not about projecting some illusion or wanting to control your image. What people really want is for what they say and how they act to be interpreted as intended. Whether I’m on land or in the water, they’ll always be people who don’t “get” me or understand my language. They’ll never grasp my reality or comprehend my way of doing things and that’s ok. I realize that there are things that I do that others may not be aware of that put them first, but that’s the point. When you’re selfish for the right reasons, you let other people shine because part of being selfish is making sure the people you love and care about take the time to be selfish too.