Are we human, or are we buoy?

swimming competition by serena repice lentini on unsplash in Delfina Hoxha's blog

Last week, I shared that I never get hangovers or headaches. As someone who believes in the evil eye, probably by proxy of being an Albanian raised in a Muslim household, but also because of my own woo-woo preferences and supernatural beliefs, I was acutely aware of the possibility that I’d get a headache or hangover after sharing that because of the evil eye.

I didn’t! So I’ll be sharing something else that may be news to some of you. This one isn’t prone to the evil eye or “jinxing.”

evil eye albania albanians syri i keq
If you never had one of these in your house, are you even Albanian?

Something you may not know about me is that I was a competitive swimmer. I was never paid to swim (NCAA athletes and I had that in common until a few days ago), but I did train with a coach, was part of a swim team, and participated in local and worldwide competitions for five years or so.

Well, okay, worldwide is a big word to use just for Montenegro, Macedonia, and Croatia, but I did write all that sentence. It’s too late to go back and change it to competitions all over the Balkans. It’s not *too* late because nothing is ever too late, really, but I digress.

There is a lot to reflect on about my professional swimming years.

How calling them “professional” makes my impostor radar go off, even though by definition that’s exactly what I did. Future Delfina editing here: I meant competitive rather than professional (professional swimmers swim for a living), but I’ll leave this in.

How, for years, my closest friends were my teammates. We talked about how when we’d grow up, our kids would play sports because of how much being part of a team and training changed us for the better. You may be thinking, dictating what my unborn children will spend their time on sounds like the surefire sign of a terrifying parent, but we didn’t mean it that way and I still stand by this. Competitive sports do amazing things to your personality. We can disagree on this. It’s fine.

I can reflect on how being best friends with guys shaped me, or how I lost one of these best friends metaphorically, or how I lost another teammate literally when he passed away suddenly around Christmas last year.

I can write about what it was like growing up in a family where my coach was my dad, who learned and read everything there was to learn and read about swimming to get my extremely talented brother the training he deserved, which played an essential role on what his future would be like. My brother got a full scholarship in the States because of swimming. He went to the Olympics three times. The Olympics only happen every four years, so that’s at least 12 years dedicated to swimming.

One summer, after our morning swim training, my swim mate and I spent the day at the pool, financing our lunch, drinks, and snacks with cash we found at the bottom of the pool.

There is so, so, so much I could— and when the time is right, will— cover about my swimming years.

Today, I wanted to talk about today. Granted, I’m writing this a day before you’re reading it (if you’re reading it on the day it’s published, July 4, 2021), so in a way, I’m writing about yesterday, but still.

I’m at the beach, my favorite place with a specific set of coordinates to be. 

I say “with a specific set of coordinates” because my favorite place to be is with my loved ones. I’ve never needed luxury retreats or dreamy beaches to enjoy my time. However, that’s just one of the many, many perks of being Albanian. Dreamy beaches are everywhere! To be more precise, everywhere in the South. Our Northern hemisphere is mostly culturally rich and a sight for sore eyes for those who love mountainous terrains.

I’m shaped by my swimming years in many ways. Today I realized my almost perverted desire for clear goals and finish lines is one of them.

When I search for the word “goals” on my website, 18 matching results show up. (You can search any word or term you can think of on The Inner Dolphin with this simple command: theinnerdolphin.com/?s=goals by changing the word goals with what you want to know my thoughts on.)

Am I obsessed with goal setting? No. Is the fact that I reach milestones represented by stars and don’t want to break my streak in my meditation app one of the reasons I meditate? Yes. Did the other day start with me doing my monthly reflections for June and reflecting on the first half of the year? Yes.

In 2018, I shared my half-year reflections publicly, albeit cryptically. I wrote about questioning what “enough” is for us:

“You know when you’re on a road trip, and an uncomfortable piece of clothing you’re wearing, or your car sickness, or a burning desire to pee is keeping you from enjoying the conversation, the view, the journey, but you think to yourself, “we’re almost there, I might as well wait”?

That’s us on our quest for more, more, more, but the car never stops, and we remain in the seat, feeling uncomfortable, waiting to arrive at our destination any moment now, as the wheels roll and as we pass all the beautiful sceneries and milestones, waiting for it to feel suddenly enough.”

I continued: “In fear of putting us both into a downward existential spiral, I’d like to ask myself and you: what is something that I was taught my whole life was needed to be enough, but that I never questioned? Maybe we disputed it once in our rebellious teenage phase during a sleepover with our best friend, then carefully put it back in the box in a dusty corner in our brain?”

I had created a problem that wasn’t there before. Sure, I’m not alone in my quest to create problems out of thin air, but since I’ve become pretty good at making things simpler rather than harder for myself, I approach my made-up problems with curiosity and a bit of respect, like, let’s see the DIY you came up with, dear brain.

Some swimmers have an issue with swimming at sea. The sea is vast and less secure than a pool. Whereas you can find money at the pool, you can lose a limb or your life at the beach. You could be a lobster diver who was inside of a whale and later went on Reddit to answer questions about the experience. Anything could happen.

But while I definitely understand this fear that many swimmers share, this is not my made-up problem.

The sea is nothing short of sacred for me. I’ve swum, meditated, cried, kissed in it, even got lost in it quite literally back when I was a new glasses wearer kid who learned the hard way that you should always remember a reference spot near where your family is staying that is visible from hundreds of meters away.

Today, I realized that while I’ve been going in and out of the water, enjoying the waves and the sound the rocks make, I hadn’t been swimming more than a few meters.

Why was this happening? I suddenly found out when I heard my dad proudly talk about his swimming adventure. “I had a great swim, made it to the buoy.”

Immediately, I was hooked. The buoy is an anchored floating device in the sea, probably put there to signify the last point you could safely swim to without getting hurt by a boat or jet ski.

Now that I think about it, last week I met a friend who recently returned from Australia and she casually mentioned the sharks on some beaches there. Apparently, this is fine because there’s a helicopter around at all times?

this is fine meme

My initial thought: How is a helicopter going to help you if a shark is already munching on your arm?!

Apparently, the sharks are tracked. The helicopter staff is there to notify you if Josh or Amy gets too close. Josh and Amy are the names I made up for these sharks. Maybe the buoy here also signifies the point of no return where Josh and Amy roam free. Albanian sharks would probably be named Arba or Endri, though. Now that I think about it, those sharks are most likely recognized with a serial number than a name, but I digress and I wish to stop thinking about this now.

Back to the buoy. For about two years now, I’ve been trying to work out three times per week. This number works for me. I see no point in working out every day, but I also think only one workout isn’t enough.

This week, I worked out once. I planned on going for a long swim and on a run the next day to get my three weekly workouts in, but I figured I had to put a pause on my desire to work out three times this week because I got caught on the technicalities of what is a long swim.

When I heard my dad mention the floating thingy, I felt excited. Now I knew what a respectable distance worthy of being called a workout looked like.

I started my swim a bit further away from where I was staying. Since I couldn’t see the buoy, I decided to do the non-swimmer swim (moving your arms and legs in the water with your head out) until I could see it and start swimming towards it.

The buoy was nowhere to be found. I tried a few times to swim without having located the floating thingy yet, but I’d start and stop. In the middle of the sea, low key anxious about the article due tomorrow I hadn’t started writing yet, I knew what the article would be about. I realized I had to write a little bit about my swimming experience and a lot about my relationship with goals.

I wondered whether this need for a buoy, whether metaphorical or literal, had stopped me in the past from getting in the metaphorical water. Did I need clear beginnings and results from the get-go to even get involved with things?

Some of these I’m obviously still reflecting on. I’m sure I’d lose all street cred if I said I had a question today and found the answer the same day. Things usually affect us in subconscious ways, but now that I’ve noticed this made-up problem, I’ll be on the lookout for the ways it affects me, if any.

As for today, after having the realization I mentioned above, I decided to just keep swimming. In a very original, non-Nemo way, I swear! After swimming and swimming and doing some of the non-swimmer swimming, the buoy and I finally came eye to eye, or well, swim goggles to floating plastic or whatever the correct analogy is.

buoy dhërmi
My nemesis.

Finally. Proudly, I swam towards the buoy. I did it. Mind you, this wasn’t a 10K distance like I’m making it sound, but it was a spiritual win more than anything. The buoy seemed to move away from me the more I approached it. What a weirdo.

I kept swimming. Looked up. The buoy seemed even further.

Remember what I said earlier about my vision, or lack thereof, causing me to get lost when I was a kid? Well, beyond a corneal ulcer and removing my rose glasses, not much has changed vision-wise. I’m still visually impaired. I started questioning what it was that I was looking at. Was the buoy a, you know, buoy? The lobster diver who was swallowed by a whale came to mind. Yes, that was a true story in case you didn’t click that Reddit AMA link earlier.

I kept swimming. Now, I was just a meter or two away. It made sense to at least touch the buoy or rest on it to say that I swam to that point. But now I had my doubts about whether the buoy was anchored. Was it moving? Had I actually achieved my goal or not? 

I decided to fight my newly-found problem then and there, by simply not quenching my curiosity. I’d never know if I made it to the buoy or not. It didn’t matter. 

We live in a goal-oriented society and goals do serve their purpose. Here’s a quote I saved in Evernote in 2016 that I can’t find the goddamn source of:

“People in very desperate situations (concentration camps, prison, etc) find things to do on a daily basis that give themselves a sense of accomplishment and control. When we do something that is just a little bit hard for us, we gain a sense of mastery in the world, and our sense of hopelessness weakens.”

But just because we live in a society currently obsessed with goals and “making it” and just because having SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) increases our chances of success, it doesn’t mean we should participate in the game. As I wrote in Winners, Losers, and Choosers, Let’s Play a Game, when someone puts a gun to our head, there are 146 things we can do.

To paraphrase, “remind yourself of the infinite game possibilities and the fact that we are always the choosers, and that in this sense, there are no winners and losers.”

2 thoughts on “Are we human, or are we buoy?”

  1. Nicely said. A game by your rules within “The Game”.Implementing your own strategies. One present moment at a time. Not a word needs to be said “goals” just for the sake of labeling it.

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