I have been swimming 3 times a week for about 2 years. Usually, I finish 1200 meters in 45 minutes at an average pace of 3 minutes 40 seconds per 100 meters. I know I am not a fast swimmer. There are different lanes in the swimming pool, but there are always swimming lessons occupying the other lanes, so we do not have many choices for lanes.

One day, the swimming pool I usually go to was closed for annual maintenance. So I had to go to a new pool. There were slow, medium, and fast lanes from left to right. There were other lanes dedicated for swimming lessons. 

First, I went to the “slow” lane as it was the lane where I came down to the water, and I always define myself as a “SLOW” swimmer. Everything was fine in the beginning. There were only 2 people in the lane. However, after a couple of minutes, it started to be crowded in the “slow” lane as more and more people came, so after a couple of laps, I decided to move to the “medium” lane as I felt that lane was not much faster than the slow one.

After I swam in the medium lane for a couple of laps, there was a young boy who always swam back and forth and suppressed lots of people in that lane and made lots of splashes. I frowned and did not want to be interrupted from time to time. I looked at the very right lane, which was the “fast lane.” There were only two people in that lane, and I didn’t feel they swam significantly faster than the medium, either. So, I had to switch to the fast lane finally.

Then I was in the fast lane. I started to feel the two guys were a bit faster than I was, so I had to swim with the flow and not block anyone in the middle of their way. I went with the other two guys, and we 3 people kept a steady distance. The two guys also swam restlessly, so I did not want to rest either. That night, I was quite happy that the three people’s pace kept going with no interruption. After 45 minutes of swimming, which was my usual length for a swim, I left the pool and rested in a sauna room. When I looked at my Apple watch, it showed 1350 meters!

Wow! That night, I swam much faster than usual. How could that happen in one night? I realized later that was because I swam in a fast lane, and in order to catch up with the flow, I made more efforts that night in order to fit the team’s dynamics there.

The swimming pool I used to swim in had 5 different lanes for different speeds, but as the swimming classes occupied some random lanes, nobody could choose their speed in that lane, so people had to go with the flow, and that flow was not fast. 

What inspires me about that night is that I improved my swimming speed just because I switched to a “fast” lane. I could have swum faster before, but I did not because I had to swim with the “average” flow in my old swimming pool.

It reminds us, we as people have the potential to improve if we choose different companions or a different environment, don’t we?

Here are a few stories to expand this scenario:

Choose a Great Workplace 

One day, I read an article about what kind of companies talented people would like to join. Some companies just put the job description and company description, then hope to recruit the talents. 

However, according to a human resources consulting company, the talents want to join a company full of smart and talented people, have a good culture to grow their careers, and have great training programs to advance their skills; as talented people get inspired and learn faster if they have smart colleagues and have channels to improve. 

I used to work in a private company, and the owner of the company always felt frustrated about losing employees. One employee left and said to the owner, “I could not find people to help me grow further here. I felt I learned nothing but work all the time.” 

Choosing different companions can lead to different personal growth. Who does not want to be accompanied by smart individuals, as it can be a path to improvement?

Learning a New Skill with serious learners

I like to read, and sometimes I want to share my readings with others. I used to be part of different book clubs, but some book clubs’ goal is to read 1 book every 3 months, and some book clubs have no timeline for when to finish a book, as people have different commitments, and the book club leader just wants to make people feel comfortable with the pace.

Until I organized a book club, and they were my classmates from the piano classes. They are committed to reading in the book club. And we finished reading 12 books in 2 years. I know we can read books together in the long run.

Why is this club committed to book reading better than other clubs? As this group is full of learners; learning piano is a challenging goal for lots of adults.

I joined the piano class 5 years ago; there were 9 semesters from class 1 to 9, and each semester, there were fewer people as there were people who dropped out after each semester. Usually, there’s a much lower drop rate after 5 classes, which was already in the advanced level. And learners already know how to go through challenges and form a learning attitude.

So I knew this learner group could stick with the reading goal better than other groups as they have already been committed to learning piano and challenged themselves to complete the piano homework and play all the pieces one after another, which usually needs hundreds of refinements, to advance to the next level. 

So, if we want to learn, stick with serious learners, not casual learners. Otherwise, we can be impacted by the dropouts and go in the other direction.

Appreciate the managers/mentors/sponsors/friends that push you to the next level

Some of my friends like to stay with a nice boss, as they like “not being pushed” by them so they can stay comfortable in their place. 

When I started my career, I had a boss who was very detail-oriented; he always found lots of errors in the reports I sent him.

“Why is there an extra comma here?” “Why does this sentence end with no period?” “This formula is not right, so the total number is wrong”……

I knew there were always errors in my report in the beginning, no matter how hard I tried and how many times I went through the report before submitting it. I was still “grilled” from time to time. 

One day, I won a “best support” award and one of the reasons was “I had a very detail-oriented pair of eyes, and I am the type of employee who can be trusted” and “I always like to take an extra step beyond my job.” Those compliments came to me. 

I realized that I had grown from the “tough” manager, and I had been pushed from being a person who was not very detail-oriented to a person who has a pair of eagle eyes and can find errors.

If we have managers, mentors, or sponsors who like to challenge us and push us to the next level in a professional manner, please do appreciate that and don’t feel we are always pulled painfully to the next level. That is actually a way to grow. 

Pick companions that are smarter than you and step out of your comfort zone

Sometimes, we are afraid of having friends who are smarter than us as it makes us look bad and stupid.

However, I like to have friends like that. 

I used to think I was the person who was most passionate about learning among my friends. One day, I heard that one of my friends, who is a father and an employee in a Fortune 500 company, had just enrolled in a PhD program.

I started to think, what is my next learning goal? I had graduated from my MBA program a few years ago. What to learn next? 

Mindset Shift

I am part of a WeChat group with my ex-colleagues. I know there are lots of smart people in that group. 

In addition to sharing lives in that group, there are sometimes sharings such as personal awards and achievements. One female colleague was just selected as one of the members of the “World Internet Conference Global Youth Leaders” representing China.

It made me so proud that we had worked together in the past, and it reassured me that I had been alongside one of the best-talented people in my workplace. So, now it inspires me to have the passion to keep improving.

There is a saying in Chinese “He who is near vermilion is stained red, and he who is near ink is stained black.”This means people tend to be influenced by their surroundings. In a broader sense, it means that individuals can be affected by the characteristics and behaviors of those they spend time with. If we associate with virtuous or positive people (symbolized by vermilion), we are likely to adopt those qualities. Conversely, if we associate with negative or harmful influences (symbolized by ink), we might be affected negatively.

So, the environment we choose significantly shapes our personal growth. As we navigate the lanes of life, consider: which lane will you choose? The one that aligns with your aspirations and propels you forward, or the one that simply drifts along? The choice is yours—a powerful decision that could make all the difference in your journey.”