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The Path of the Optimist

Published: 
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Reflections off the Water

George Bovell III

Obviously, I am an optimist. As I sit down to write this, it is occurring to me that the very act of putting thoughts to paper here is optimistic. I am hopefully assuming that you will be interested in what I have to share and tune in weekly to read these columns that I bring back from this interesting, exciting journey through the crucible that is this quest for excellence in individual professional sport. 

Instead of me simply venturing out, returning and recounting things here, I want you the reader to think of this column as something more along the lines of a way to join me on an epic Olympic adventure, as if we were on a challenging hike together through uncharted wilderness. 

One is which you allow me to reveal points of interest, dangers and the beautiful scenery along the way; things that you might not have taken the time to notice otherwise. Imagine that we are walking together and I am pointing saying “Look over there! Can you see that?” 

Come to think of it, the very notion of writing this column is further evidence of my optimism manifested in my sincere belief that through these columns I can offer seeds of inspiration and hard- earned insight gained through my own struggles for excellence that might be able to help motivate and inspire someone, struggling somewhere, to change their lives for the better. 

Through the medium of this newspaper, these seeds of inspiration will literally be scattered by the wind like those of a silk cotton tree. Whether they grow into giant trees of success that in turn complete the cycle will depend on if they find fertile soil, take root and are nurtured. 

Through this, I want to pull you into this whirlwind of the ultimate rat race that I am caught in; it’s literally survival of the fittest. It is a constant grind for a potential shine that might not be seen for years, if it is ever seen. A grind that if endured creates a special stamina of self mastery. By sharing my struggle I intend to offer a stark contrast against the quest for instant gratification, complacency and mediocrity that are becoming increasingly pervasive in our culture today. 

The truth is, my struggle is very exciting. The downside is that nothing is ever final, the most important competition is always the next one. Swimming, as an individual sport is not just about being good, the way scientists, doctors or lawyers can all agree that they are skilled experienced professionals but can only argue about who is the best. 

We in swimming take it further by attempting to determine who is objectively the greatest, in the entire world. A measured greatness determined by margins as small as a mere one hundredth of a second. 

Competitors can be compared objectively by times that compare against another even though they may be produced at different times and places. This puts everyone involved in competition with everyone else, creating a completely hierarchical system, one in which you are always trying to catch up to those ahead and keep those behind you, from passing you. Either you are winning or losing. A lesson that can be applied to everything we do.

The age old life dilemma between going wide and trying to experience everything that life has to offer versus going deep and experiencing one thing so profoundly that you master it, and learn about yourself in the process is one that I have always struggled with. In going so deep into sport in this limited time that we have on this earth I have often felt that I was missing out on much that life has to offer. However, as I have continued to delve deeper, in my case into swimming and optimising human performance, I am comforted by the notion expressed in this quote from one of the greatest warriors ever, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi from his Book of Five Rings “once you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things”. This profound truth is becoming more evident to me daily as I continually realise how the hard learned practices and ways of dealing with adversity, triumph and disaster in sport apply to the greater context of life. I am not saying that I have it all figured out, but through this column I intend to share my ever increasing understanding of “the way” with you.

Now that you understand what my reflections off the water are about, tune in next Monday as we begin our journey together. 

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George on Twitter at: @georgebovell