Running a business and swimming laps – more similar than you think

- April 29, 2017 4 MIN READ

A bad day in solo-land drove Nadia Barlow to her local pool. While swimming laps, she picked up three very energising thoughts about business.

This week’s been one of those ‘rollercoaster weeks’ of difficult clients and stalled projects. I’ve started to question myself:

“Maybe I’m not I’m not actually a good copywriter.”

“Why am I even doing this in the first place?”

Put this together with my monthly freak out that all the jobs will dry up, I’ll run out of money and find myself so far up sh$t creek there’s no way back … well, It can be overwhelming.

So I decided it was time to get off the roller coaster, if only for the afternoon, and go for a swim. As I made my way through each lap mulling over it all, it struck me that my swimming journey was an apt metaphor for my business journey.

Slow and steady really does win the race

I’m not a forty laps in half an hour type – not even twenty. In fact, I’m lucky to do ten. But does that mean I shouldn’t bother swimming laps at all?

When I first started up swimming again this summer I set myself a goal of eight laps. My friend who’s a Little Miss Forty-with-flippers-on laughed affectionately when I proudly progressed to ten.

“Who knows,” she said, “Maybe tomorrow you’ll do twelve.”

And maybe I will. Maybe the next day I’ll do 14. And maybe one day even 40. Imagine that.

The moral of the story is: Ten laps a day, every day, are better than sporadic bursts of 40.

In business, that translates to long-term, sustainable growth that’s proportionate to your skill level and experience. I resist the urge of comparing myself other business owners who had more growth in their first year. For all I know they may have started out with more experience and an existing network to draw from that meant the transition to freelance life was less of a jump.

Progress is better than perfection

This is how my ten laps played out that day:

I put my goggles on, jumped in the water and launched out into freestyle, arms slicing through the water with grace, legs strong as planks kicking perfectly in the time, propelling my body towards the end of the lane. “I didn’t know I could be such a good swimmer,” I thought to myself. “Perhaps I can do 12 today” (one step closer to 40).

But after a couple of laps I was getting tired and before long my synchronised breathing sounded like a gasp for air at every turn of my head. My perfect stroke morphed into flaccid arms slapping the water, while the water-logged twigs that my legs had become, struggled to keep up with the rest of me.

Maybe ten laps would do today…

The moral of the story is: Sometimes it’s more about getting things done than doing everything perfectly.

A good example of this is working on your own blogging and social media. As with regular exercise, it’s more about forming a healthy habit than doing it perfectly every time. I’m a self-confessed perfectionist and it’s held me up with lots of things in life. But early on in my business, I recognised that I would have to let some of that go if I wanted to get anywhere. So now I’m finally understanding when to prioritise progress, and when to indulge the perfectionist within.

Knowing when to hang in there and when to get out of the pool

I was still toying with the idea of 12 laps when my goggles started to leak and made my left eye sting. I still had five more laps to go before I got to 12, and refused to give up. So I ended up doing some kind of one-eyed crooked crawl.

Then my goggles completely fogged up to the point where I couldn’t even see the black line on the bottom of the pool with my one good eye. As I tapped the wall at the end for the tenth time I decided ten was enough for one day.

The moral of the story is: Sometimes it really is better to quit while you’re ahead.

I used to think I should never give up on anything. That I had to stick with things and see them through, even if they weren’t working for me. But now I realise it’s ok to put the brakes on a project or change plans if I realise it’s going to end badly.

There may be some small goals you give up on along the way, but when it comes to the bigger long-term goals of your business, nothing is ever really wasted. As long as you get back in the pool again the next day, you’ll get there in the end.

The final word

The main thing I’m trying to say here is this: we can only ever do our best in the situation we’re in. In a way, a big part of the business has been learning about myself and how I work best, rather than pushing myself to be someone I’m not.

And sometimes you just need a bit of time out.

After I finished my laps I had new-found zen and new strategy with which to face that tricky client. And funnily enough, I got home to find a voicemail from a prospective client saying they’d accepted my proposal plus another long-term client had sent me material for a block of blog posts.

Just like that, things started to look up again. I will eat for another day. And tomorrow who knows, maybe I’ll have a brand new pair of goggles!