Swimming against the stream

The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it – Woodrow Wilson

Where to start? Hopefully a short or at least concise post today. Let’s take it apart. A man or woman (or you or me presumably), who is swimming – a metaphor for getting in there and actively trying to move somewhere by personal effort, comes up against the currents – the obstacles in life – of the stream and therefore discovers the strength of what obstacles are involved in the activity he has chosen to undertake. So to simplify enormously he is saying that you can’t know what you are up against until you get started on a project. I believe though that he is probably saying Jump In anyway so that you will increase your knowledge. Perhaps I am too optimistic. He might be saying Don’t Go There – you will soon find out what you are up against!

I notice the use of the metaphor of swimming which suggests personal effort and using all of yourself, physically and mentally, to try to get somewhere. A swimmer could choose to swim in a pool, stream, a lake or the sea and all will provide a very different experience. Woodrow has chosen a stream, like the stream of life, the passing of time. The strength of a stream of course is the usually one way in the direction of the current toward the sea (eddies not withstanding), as opposed to a swimming pool which usually has no current and the sea with very varying currents and fearsome strength at different times. I forgot to mention that in this quote the man is swimming against the stream as opposed to with it, which suggests that you only learn the strength of your opposition/obstacles when you go up against it. How often have we thought or heard that you wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of someone who is being very nice to you? Is Mr Wilson simply telling us that you don’t know exactly what you are up against until you cross them?

You only have to ask any divorced person how that works. The person who brought you the most joy and love at one stage, no matter how amicable you try to make it, now becomes a stranger, a terrible foe, seemingly capable of all manner of indecencies. If you jump into divorce you must both realise that the very process is like a stream. It carries you along in a particular a direction and has its own strength which you may try to swim against at times, no matter how much you want to get downstream to the final destination.

Anyway this process doesn’t only apply to divorce of course. Any time you jump into a project and start going with it, there are bound to be things to navigate along the way that were expected and unexpected. But at least you can face them as they arise, make decisions, find strategies and ways around things. You may learn that your foe is formidable and it is wise to hop out again. Or you may find that the universe magically arranges things for you that help you along a lot faster. At least you are fighting against real, not imagined foes and this is what I think Woodrow is getting at. You will know the strength of the actual obstacles.

How often do we not jump in and swim because fear, insecurity and self-esteem issues have prevented us from even trying? We do not know what we are really up against. It may be that we are not up against anything but our own fear of success and the change to our lives if, God forbid, we actually achieve it. We may fear ourselves, thinking we could not handle setbacks and rejection should our project not go to plan. But how will we know until we try? Jumping in will soon tell you.

I leave with some advice from John Williams in his book ‘Screw Work Let’s Play’ who says that once your project is ‘exposed to the air’, it will change. And as long as you are working with the changes to discover what works, you have a good chance of succeeding. But you would never know until you expose it. Jump in and start swimming. What have you got to lose or gain that you fear? You might find yourself floating joyously downstream instead, rushing toward your dreams.