What success really looks like

As I swam toward the wall to finish my race, I felt that it had been a fast one. My technique had been steady; I felt good in the water; and I didn’t feel the exhaustion that usually overwhelmed me at the end of a race. But when I looked up at the board for my time, I saw that it was slow—slower than a race I had swum the year before, and much slower than my personal best. The disappointment was overwhelming.

Going into my second year on my college’s swim team, I’d been excited to push myself, and to set new personal records in my favorite races. That semester, however, I had a lot on my plate: classes, work, and rehearsals, on top of swimming. It seemed as if my busy schedule was taking a toll on my performance in the pool. I became frustrated with myself at every swim meet because my times just weren’t getting any faster. Despite my best efforts to manage my time and balance all that I had to do, I still saw my racing times suffering.

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After a particularly disheartening practice, I had a talk with my coach about the meaning of success. At the time, I was looking at success strictly from a material perspective—focusing on faster times and personal bests—and as a result, I was seeing only disappointment. After talking with the coach, I realized I needed to look at success from a spiritual basis. For example: Was I growing in my practice of Christian Science? Was I loving and supporting my teammates as they practiced alongside me? And most important: What were my motives for racing, and what qualities was I expressing as I swam each race?

At my next swim meet I took a few moments before each of my races to check in with the spiritual definition of success—what success truly is. I set goals to express God through joy and confidence and to recognize that my strength and ability come from God. I also focused on loving and supporting my competitors. With those qualities in mind I was able to see each race I was in as a success, whether I improved my time or not. 

I took a few moments before each of my races to check in with the spiritual definition of success.

In the Christian Science Sunday School, I’d learned that progress and healing occur when we shift our focus to God, who is completely loving and good, and see the spiritual truth about ourselves and our activities. Once I shifted my focus from my racing times to this true definition of success, I started to see other small changes, such as in my stroke technique, or how my starts were gradually improving. The change was not immediate; I still had to continue elevating my perspective and reminding myself at each meet what spiritual success meant. But over time I became less worried about what times I was swimming and more interested in what I had gained from each experience. By the end of the season I had seen improvement in both my perspective on my race times as well as on the times themselves. 

At my championship meet at the end of the season I overcame nerves and doubts by embracing that spiritual definition of success, which I had grown to understand throughout the season. In one of my final races, I held to that idea especially firmly. As I swam, my thoughts turned away from myself and toward God, and I not only felt love for my teammate who was swimming the race with me, but I also knew that I was able to swim so freely because I understood that I was the reflection of God, expressing His ability and strength. As I touched the wall, I was happy with my race, and I didn’t even turn around to look at my time. I knew that I had been successful spiritually. 

It wasn’t until I saw my coach and teammates cheering that I realized I had shaved several seconds off my time and set a new personal record. I was so happy to have improved my time, but more important, I was grateful for the lesson about what success really is.

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