Josh Davis

I'm currently an Engineer working on machine learning at AWS and am living in Seattle.

I like to learn, pet kittens, and wear fluffy socks.

I never save anything for the swim back.

31 August 2013

Never Save Anything for the Swim Back. Ever.

I put the quote “I never save anything for the swim back” everywhere. I have it on almost every profile that I have on the internet. Some of you might have heard it before but I’m finally going to explain where I got it from and why it means so much to me.

The Movie

Gattaca is a science fiction movie that came out in 1997. Although I was 7 the year it was released, I didn’t watch it until ~10 years later when I was in high school.

This post won’t spoil any of the plot. Almost everything that I say happens very early on in the film. However, if you haven’t seen it, I really, really suggest that you do so. It has been the single most influential thing that I have experienced.

The Plot

Gattaca takes place in the future where genetics is completely understood and rocket launches take place daily. Instead of discrimination based on social status or the color of one’s skin, discrimination is based on genes. Those with superior genes rule the world and get all the opportunities.

The main character, Vincent Freeman, is born the natural way to us but unnatural to them. This isn’t common practice because of how advanced genetics has become. Instead, parents select the best possible child of any desired gender based on the genes of the parents.

Gone are the days of poor eyesight, baldness, mental problems, birth defects, and anything else that doesn’t give the child the “best possible chance.” After all, according to one of the doctor’s in the film, “humans have enough imperfection built in.”

Vincent grows up in this near perfect world with an inferior set of genes. His brother, Anton Freeman, unlike Vincent, was selected genetically. He overshadows Vincent’s achievements in every way and their parents are always very proud of Anton.

Vincent struggles to find jobs because of his inferior genes. His hopes and dreams of becoming an astronaut can never be attained because of his low intelligence and genetic heart condition.

Growing Up

Vincent and Anton liked to compete in a swimming challenge. The two would start swimming out to the ocean and keep going until the other one gave up. Although Vincent was older than Anton, Vincent always lost.

When Vincent became old enough to live on his own, he realized that there wasn’t much of a reason to stick around. Before he left he competed in their old swim challenge one last time. This time things were different as Vincent describes:

It was the last time we swam together and out into the open sea. Like always, we knew each stroke to the horizon was one we’d have to make back to the shore.

But something was very different about that day. Every time Anton tried to pull away, he found me right beside him. Until finally, the impossible happened.

It was the one moment in our lives that my brother was not as strong as he believed I was not as weak. It was the moment that made everything else possible.

The Quote

Near the end of the movie, Vincent is asked how he has done all that he has. His answer is simple but profound:

You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it: I never saved anything for the swim back.

Vincent had hopes and dreams. He knew that if he wanted to achieve them, he wasn’t going to be able to do it without giving it his all. Vincent knew that the risk of giving everything meant that he might possibly fail and drown. When something mattered to Vincent, he knew that hard work was the only thing that separated him from everyone else. Intelligence, genetics, talent, were all secondary to hard work and practice for Vincent.

Personal Significance

I watched Gattaca for the first time sometime during high school. At the time I was struggling a lot with what the purpose of my life was and what I wanted to do when I graduated high school. I was also struggling a lot with feeling inferior to others intellectually.

I would read about someone’s achievements on the internet and compare them to my own. I was just growing up in a small little town in Iowa. How could I ever compete?

When I saw Gattaca, I realized that none of that mattered. It didn’t matter what my purpose in life was. It didn’t matter how smart I was. All that mattered was that I follow my heart and dreams and never save anything for the swim back.

I have watched Gattaca every summer before school starts and many times in between. It always reminds me of what my true aspirations are and what I stand for: I have a dream and I’ll never give up in achieving it.

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