Monday, 20 July 2015

The King of a Trade is the Jack of None

There are some people who are admirably and almost annoyingly good at a range of things: academic brilliance, sporting excellence, good looking to boot and somehow seems to spend most of their time volunteering for charities and NGOs. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people, and sad as it may be, you probably are not either. For most of us, to be good at something we need to put in a fair bit of effort, and that means there are a lot of things we simply do not have the time to become good at. Even those naturally gifted will struggle to become champions at anything if it does not take a position of centrality in their lives. The Jack of all trades is the King of none.

Even with my exaggerated goals, strictly speaking I do not want to be a champion at swimming. That goal is honestly beyond any horizon I can conjure up in my imagination. See, swimming is a sport where - allowing for some definite variability for natural talent -  to win means to have worked the hardest. To much emphasis has been put on Michael Phelps' well-suited body for swimming and not enough on his relentless work ethic. And within that, it has been noted too little how incredibly young he started with that ferocious training schedule. He started swimming when he was seven, qualifying for the Olympics in 2000 and setting a world record in the 200m butterfly at just 15 years old. Adam Peaty, the world record holder for 50m and 100m breaststroke, is actually younger than me. In the women's, Katie Ledecky won the 800m freestyle at the Olympics at 15 and at 18 could qualify for the 2016 Olympics...even if she were male.

I have never in my life truly trained for a high goal like this in anything, even if I have done moderately well at things in the past. The difference between my moderate success at things and actually achieving something like qualifying to swim against the best breaststrokers in Queensland is monumental. Most of that difference is the time lost in these 20 years of life, at least the past half dozen or so of which I could have spent swimming. I cannot really make up for all those years of lost training, but I can make a dent in the debt.

I cannot become a champion swimmer, but if I train like one I can be the next best thing. Now, how often do we hear of Phelps, or Peaty, or Ledecky investing great amounts of time and energy to other tasks? Perhaps Phelps, now he has reached the climax of his career, but not the others. This teaches me that the investment in excellence of a champion is not only enormous, it also means that it excludes other things. Not only is the Jack of all trades the King of none, but the King of a trade is the King of no other, indeed, is the Jack of no other.

There are sports and areas more ruled by talent than swimming, where perhaps the natural gift of some translates to an easy ride to brilliance. If I was interested in being champion in those areas - supposing for a moment I even had the talent, which is quite the supposition in itself - then I would perhaps be able to diversify my timetable. But I am not.

To be a great swimmer requires counting the cost and asking oneself whether perhaps the laurels of this sport are sweet enough to wager all on. If I follow this path, I will not have the chance to succeed on another, not for the moment. If I do not, then I could explore other options. There is no romanticising the decision, there is no shame in deciding against biting off so large a portion. If I did not commit to this, chances are I would take on just as much volume of other things and I could not be blamed for that.

And yet! I will try for this, I will commit to this in detriment to all else. Obviously I am still a Catholic and still a university student; these things take their own time toll, but not in conflict with swimming. I will make of my day the answer to the question "what am I doing to achieve my goal?" I know that it will be a heavy burden, that even the chance of success will come at a heavy price. But I have counted the cost and am willing to pay.

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