Do not swim alone

Do Not Swim Alone, Swim with Swimmers

When I was working in the office last month, I stayed in a nearby hotel and made myself go swimming each evening after work to get some exercise and relax. Each evening I was the only one in the pool. The last night (that’s right, I blatantly ignored them for four days), I read the posted rules for the pool. The last one read simply: DO NOT SWIM ALONE.

My first thought? Oh no! I’m going to die in here and no one will even know! Second thought: That’s ridiculous. I’m an adult and a competent swimmer. Third thought: I think I feel a metaphor coming on…

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know I love a good metaphor whether it comes from watching some fishermen or straight out of a fortune cookie. And here was a brilliant one, right on the wall of the hotel pool.

The Metaphor:

It’s basic. But swimming through life and navigating your way to your goals is not like swimming in a hotel swimming pool. It’s like swimming up a river. It’s hard. It’s dangerous. And you really don’t know what’s around the river-bend (sing it, friends!). Doing it alone is not only dangerous, it’s stupid!

You may have heard the phrase:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.      — Jim Rohn

“Oh great!” I think. Only 2 of my 5 are actually adults (reminder: I have 3 kids)! If we’re talking net worth here, 3 of my 5 have $0!

But do I agree the people around you can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE? Yes. If I’m swimming, I don’t want to go swimming with 5 people that can’t swim! If I’m trying to save money, I don’t want to spend my time with 5 people that are big spenders! If I’m trying to be a good person, I don’t want to be with 5 people that are jerks (tip: NEVER hang with jerks!).

More than just: Do Not Swim Alone, I would add: Swim only with strong swimmers heading in the same direction.

As a researcher, if I’m trying to learn about a topic, I begin with a basic search, maybe even Wikipedia (gasp!) to get an initial overview of the topic. Once I know enough to have some search terms, I get my search skillz on and start compiling and reading the scientific literature on the topic. Scientific literature is definitely the way to go if you’re trying to understand how much we understand, how much has been studied, etc., but it also has limitations. Current studies aren’t published until there are results. “Next steps” aren’t published because they currently exist in the minds of the people that work on these things all day every day. So do you know what the next step is? Calling these people!

What’s the one thing you love to talk about all day every day? (ok, if you’re anything like me, it might be personal finance. But I can also add “research” and “theatre” and “travel” to that list for myself.) Now you get the idea. If you call someone who is so passionate about this thing you’re trying to learn or do and ask thoughtful questions, they have to respond! They can’t help themselves! (If someone asks me: “What’s the best way to get to Guatemala in June 2017?” I have to drop everything and spend hours pricing it all out. Because THAT’S WHAT I DO FOR FUN!)

The right people can be found everywhere (thank you internet!). If you’re doing research, universities are great places to look. If you’re looking for money advice, don’t go to the people who are paid on commission. Talk to the people that are so passionate about the subject that they talk about it without a paycheck in mind! If you’re trying to learn how to program, you don’t want to talk to the guy that does it all day at work and comes home and creates art (ahem, *Mr.T*, ahem). You want to talk to the girl that programs in her free time because she loves it!

If you’re starting up a new river, find the people passionate about swimming in that river and swim with them! 


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  1. The biggest hurdle that I have ever run into in my life is the person who tries to row the boat in the opposite direction. I have a few colleagues who I try to stay far away from because I don’t want to be dragged down. I wish more teachers were invested in their finances. That would help us A LOT. Love this post…as always!

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks Penny. There are so many people trying to row the wrong direction. And there are so many people learning about swimming from the people swimming in the wrong direction! But we’re the smart ones. We can figure out who is ahead and talk to them!

  2. Emily Jividen

    Sometimes I feel like my lovely friends are Statler and Waldorf…you know, the two heckling muppets in the balcony. I love Statler and Waldorf. They are hilarious. But they aren’t always the support system I need in my l life.

  3. Yeah, like the swim lanes in an Olympic pool, there are the Phelps and Ledeckys of the sport of personal finance. But taking norice of those who are at the front provides inspiration for most of us to swim that little bit harder. Not forgetting to come up for air now and again and enjoy the view form the pool……

    • MaggieBanks

      Definitely come up for air! But if I wanted to learn about swimming, I’d def call Katie L. or my cousin who is not an olympic swimmer, but still LOVES to race. Her passion is swimming and she gets in that pool with her kids and teaches them to swim as much as possible because she loves it. When people are so passionate about something that they relate everything to it, that’s the person we want to talk to! 🙂

  4. The first thought after I read the title was, “Ugh, I hate swimming with people” hahahahaha
    But seriously, I get a little giddy when I come out of the locker room and see empty lanes, and an empty hotel pool – pure gold baby!! 🙂

    People on my team know they can come and talk finances/investing and what not with me and I’m happy to listen, provide suggestions, or just point them to various places on the internet for their own discovery.

    It’s nice getting people to stop by with “don’t judge me but…” sort of finance questions. I don’t judge and just let them know I had loads of debt and was horrible with money at one point too. I usually start with, “hey, you haven’t cashed out a 401k so you’re doing better than me”. 🙂

    As far as doing stuff because you like it – if you ever need to know the going rate of a 3-4 br house in ID, MT, VA, TN, or NC, just drop a line and I’m all over it. I will even throw in the demographics and climate data for free. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      See? We all have our crazy passion projects! I’ll let you know if I plan to move to any of those states any time soon, though it’s highly unlikely! 🙂

  5. Interestingly, I used to live in a house with an in-ground pool and would often swim alone in the evenings when my then fiance was at work. One evening I had the same revelation that I could actually die from “enter any number of unlikely things here” and no one would find me for hours. Yikes! Aside from that, I do buy into the saying that we are the culmination of the company we keep. (Note: I also have a 7-year old so I’m right there with ya!) Fortunately, the company we keep also includes those we interact with regularly online. We have a wonderful opportunity to expand our circle and enrich our lives both emotionally and financially by reaching out to someone in, say, Alaska! Our ancestors were not as fortunate. I am truly grateful for the financial community I was able to connect with over the past year. There aren’t many people in my physical circle that want to discuss 401ks, IRAs, and 529 plans all day long 😉 Just keep swimming!

    • MaggieBanks

      Agreed. If we count the online folks, our net worth increases significantly! 🙂 And all of us are clearly passionate about talking money that we spend HOURS on blogs that make little to no money. It’s a passion project!

  6. I love this metaphor! Though I have been thinking about broadening it to encompass more about people than just, for example, whether they can swim or not. Like those friends who can’t swim and are therefore NOT the best people to be around for swimming purposes might also be amazing friends or mentors in other ways. This was on my mind at FinCon when one of the speakers said something like, “Your net worth is the sum of your five closest friends’ net worth,” which was undoubtedly meant to teach us that if you want to be rich, you need to hang around with rich people. Cool lesson, bro. (*sarcasm) 😉 By that definition, we have very little net worth, because none of our friends are in our boat, at least not in real life (online = different story). BUT, those low net worth friends are wealthy and worth being around in other ways — they have their values straight and spend based on what’s important to them, not based on keeping up with the Joneses. They are kind and generous. They love the outdoors as much as we do. And they put people before things. I feel pretty darn lucky to be able to count all of that as my “net worth,” even if the balance on paper wouldn’t look so good. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Each set of swimmers will be different dependent on the project or phase of life. And as I mentioned, my net worth is dictated by 3 kids that have $0! The analogy doesn’t entirely work in a lot of scenarios. 🙂

  7. I love the metaphor. I think it’s really interesting as I seem to have “swimming friends” that swim with me for a season of life and then depart. Most of the time I learn a ton from them both good and bad before they move on. (I live in a transient town so I hope it’s more to do with the area than me.)

    It’s also been interesting seeing how as my net worth has increased the people that I’ve come to surround myself with seems to have gone up. I never really thought about it before you brought it up but it makes sense.

    Thanks for sharing!!!

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree that for every time and purpose, there is a different set of swimmers that are the best choices. And those shift as we shift.

  8. OMG, I’ve been swimming alone for 5 months in my apartment pool. I could have drowned! Great article. I, too, love analogies. This is a good one. Swim in pack, with good swimmers, who are all heading the same direction as you. Nice.

    • MaggieBanks

      See? As soon as someone mentions that you shouldn’t swim alone, you panic! (alright, maybe that was just me…)

  9. I have a post ready for next week that kind of deals with this idea. It is hard to swim upstream, but in blogging I feel like I have found my tribe. Finally a group of people who I am willing to show the rarely seen numbers and is encouraging about the good choices I am making, not just spending money. We have a lot of great friends who add value in different ways, but it has been great to find like minded people on the money front.

  10. Matt @ Optimize Your Life

    I’ve heard the saying about being the people you spend the most time with, but this is an interesting twist. I like the idea of finding the people who are passionate and knowledgeable about something that you are just getting your feet wet in. Also, very good point on people wanting to talk to you about their area of expertise. I know that I have been very hesitant to reach out to people because I don’t want to be annoying or a hassle, but when people have asked me for help I have been happy to work with them and have not felt annoyed at all.

  11. I totally agree about swimming with someone else! Legit.

    That’s why my friends, my husband and I, and my family all support each other and talk about our goals together. Whether they’re passionate about the same things or not, they always listen and encourage me. That’s more than enough when it comes to a swimming buddy for me!

    • MaggieBanks

      as long as everyone is swimming the same direction, the whole group will move forward!

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