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Thinking About Motivation
August 7, 2012 - 9:07pm

I’ve started swimming regularly again. Between watching the Olympics, reading books and novels about swimming (Swim: Why We Love the Water, The Bone Cage, and Swimming Studies; I highly recommend all three), and just generally trying to get back into shape, the pool has drawn me back in.

I’ve written before about how swimming and coaching swimming has informed the way I teach (working smarter, not harder; how I try to coach my writing students; what success means as an instructor). Now I’m starting to think about why I swim (and why I kept swimming as a teen for as long as I did) and what motivates me to do what I do (and how I go about doing it). Starting to swim again has also forced me to think about routines, even more deeply than the last post.

As I have written elsewhere, I used to swim pretty mindlessly; I would pound the water as hard as I could but never really thought about how I was swimming, nor how I was treating myself outside of the pool (answer: not as good as I should have been). I swam, in part, out of habit; I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else with those 4-5 hours a day when I was usually in the water. Even getting up at 5 AM for practice was a blessing for me back in those days – the less I saw of my mother and step-father, the better. I swam for other people as much as I swam for myself; my team was my family.

I feel that way right now about my job; I am doing it for a lot of the wrong reasons, largely because I can’t see myself doing (or am currently legally able to do) anything else. I don’t so much feel like I am a part of something, or that I am making any difference, so that adds to the dissatisfaction. Am I just mindlessly going through the motions because I don’t have anything better to do, or I’m scared of leaving academia, in the same way I was scared to stop swimming?

Maybe a little bit. But, the other day when I was swimming, I felt something that I had forgotten about. I felt…like myself. More like myself, more alive, more aware, more comfortable, more at home with myself than I am just about anywhere else. I’m not wracked with self-doubt or fear; I am the version of myself that feels, not invincible, but like I can push through and accomplish something, something worthwhile, if only for myself. The other places I feel that? When I teach and when I write.

I should more correctly say, when I lecture.  My attempts to move away from lecturing and more towards peer-driven learning might be causing some of this dissatisfaction with my job. I know that my students are benefiting from this move, but old habits, especially ones from which I used to derive so much satisfaction, are hard to break. This is one of those things that I clearly just need to “get over” but I don’t think I would have ever come to this realization if I hadn’t gotten back into the pool.

And when people ask me when I find the time to write, I make sure that I make the time, in the same way I need to make time for my swimming. I don’t have to blog, I don’t have to do research (I am only paid to teach) but it isn’t just because I want to make sure that I remain a viable candidate for some other position someday. It’s because writing makes me feel good. There is a silence and a solitude, similar to when I’m in the water that I experience when I write that I don’t get anywhere else. The noise of the world floats away.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with these epiphanies. One thing I know I’m going to do(to quote Dory) is just keep swimming.

 

 

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