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Relative deprivation & gratitude

I just got back from Speedo Sectionals Championship Series in Austin, TX. For those who don't know Sectionals is a bi-yearly competition for the fastest swimmers in Texas and Louisiana. This past weekend, I competed in three events and made it to the finals in one, but what I found most interesting about this particular meet, was the presence of relative deprivation. Relative deprivation is the concept that describes how we measure ourselves against the people in our immediate circles. Our successes are compared to their success and our failures to their failures. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it is better to be a big fish in a small pond when dealing with relative deprivation: it is better to be the best in your immediate circle than to be average in a very competitive circle. Texas is one of the fastest swimming states in the country, and at this particular Sectionals, there were several Olympians, Olympic champions, and world champions competing in the mix. Malcolm would probably say that it is better to be a GOOD swimmer in a SLOW state than a GOOD swimmer in a FAST state like Texas. Comparing yourself to those immediately around you is often misleading and inaccurate, but regardless of how big a fish you are or how small of a pond you are in, gratitude is the only effective and productive response. If you are a big fish, be grateful for your opportunity to shine. And if you are in a big pond, be grateful for the excellence that surrounds you. At Sectionals, I was in a big pond. I felt slow and incompetent compared to those around me. But as soon as I started embracing gratitude and as soon as I started recognizing how many amazing swimmers were at that meet and how blessed I was to be there, I not only enjoyed my time more, but I began to perform better as well.

I encourage you to think differently about how big of a fish you are and how small of a pond you are in. And regardless of where you are, I challenge you to embrace gratitude for what you have.

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