Here comes the ball. I’m ready. It arcs high into the air and bounces in front of me, rebounding off the turf, lower than chest height as I meet it. I awkwardly raise my foot. The ball caroms off my ankle, directly toward a player on the opposing team. I run forward to challenge him, but he performs a bit of magical misdirection, leads me off balance and sprints down the field to score. Not so ready after all.
A scene like this gets heavy rotation when I play soccer. With my feet, the beautiful game is repainted into something resembling that botched Jesus fresco. Simply put, I suck. So why do I keep playing? Because it’s fun. And because it’s good to do stuff you suck at, as often as you can.
I know this isn’t a popular idea at the moment. From Charlie Sheen to DJT, all we hear is win, win, win no matter what. Flip the channels and you’ll find an endless parade of alphas grunting endlessly about killer instincts. It’s fuck or walk, buddy, because only closers get coffee. Look at the Cavs. They’re the second best team in the NBA, one year removed from winning the championship, and they’re currently committed to an organizational rebuild last seen in Jonestown. The message is clear: better to burn down the house with you in it than to live as runner up. After all, second place is the first loser.
Here’s a hot take: I blame social media. Tired, I know. But now that our phones show us, at every minute of every day, what every person we’ve ever met is achieving, we can never fully relax. The perfect family on Facebook, the gilded career on LinkedIn. People stack up their achievements and successes, building a great big beautiful wall to hide their imperfections. You never know when a recruiter or a crush might be stalking your profile, so you better keep that shit tight. All brag, no humble.
Even when we let off steam, we can’t escape the rat race. How many reps did you squat miles did you run laps did you swim hours did you ride pounds did you shed? Oh yeah? That was my benchmark last year. Keep givin’ 110 percent and ballin’ out, bro! You’ll catch up!
Nah, it’s ok. You go on ahead.
America has no fucking chill, and it’s a shame. If you only do what you’re best at, you end up not doing a lot of things. We learn that trade off early. By middle school, kids get sorted into drama club or marching band or the football team. Varsity and JV, AP and remedial, geeks and Future Farmers of America. Listen, I’m not after some Harrison Bergeron situation here. If your kid is great at windmill dunks, then go ahead and let him soar. If he’s also fascinated —but inexperienced — with theater, encourage him to audition for the chorus of “Bye, Bye Birdie” even if it means he might miss a game or two. Sure his career points total will suffer, but he’ll be better for the experience — even if he sings like Bob Dylan.
The point is, we are more than our stats. We are each of us a bundle of complicated and contradictory urges and wonderings. It’s possible to be an excellent singer and a fantastically terrible but enthusiastic softball player at the same time. If we turn away from what sparks our curiosity just because we happen to suck at it, then the terrorists have won. Ok, maybe not the terrorists, but definitely the robots.
Allow me to let Charles Barkley make my point. Take a gander as he swings a golf club. This man played 16 seasons in the NBA. He was the MVP in 1993 and, as the Round Mound of Rebound, led the league in the offensive version of that stat three years in a row. He owns two gold medals. He’s in the damn hall of fame. But switch the sneakers for spikes and you get whatever the hell that is. He’s so bad at golf, it’s news when he manages to improve slightly. Why doesn’t he quit? Watch the beginning of this short interview from 2012. He says, “My golf game is a little shaky most of the time. But I just come out here to have fun.”
Good enough for me!
Not every decision Barkley makes is a good one. Some, especially in his personal life, are very bad. But that makes him human. The way sucking at golf makes him human. Chuck ain’t afraid to look like a fool in public. That inspires me to be willing to look like a fool in public.
Off the field — pardon me, the pitch — I do many things well. I can grow a beard in no time at all. I can cook fried eggs without breaking the yolks. I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime, no matter how fast I’m driving. I once ate about 17 pounds of meat at a Brazilian steak house. I drop heavy books on large spiders with authority. Give me 23 oddly shaped items, and I’ll pack them in the trunk of a car perfectly. I sneeze the way Jessica Jones closes a door.
But the guys I play soccer with don’t know any of those things about me. They just know I’m the guy who’s probably going to eat shit and get scored on. I’m trying my best out there. I understand enough about the game to know what I should be doing. I see the strategy, anticipate the attack. The problem is one of execution. Game system lag in real life. I’m a lazy dog instead of a quick brown fox.
Sucking teaches humility. Trying hard, improving only slightly and still performing badly forces you to accept your ceiling. You learn not to take yourself too seriously. You learn to be kinder to yourself, which, unless you’re a narcissistic asshole, will teach you to be kinder to others. You begin to realize that your experience with your suckupation is like your buddy Dave’s experience with sobriety. Or your colleague Frank’s experience with punctuality. You learn how to be patient with imperfection. You learn how to forgive honest mistakes, how to rally to a teammate, how to give a boost, a high five, a thumbs up, even a slap-ass if that’s what you’re into. And you learn that not everything has to have stakes, which is important for dads because when you’re with your kids, everything is pretty high stakes.
So whatever your secret desire happens to be, get out there and do it! Kick a soccer ball like no one’s watching, paint like a failed world leader, skate like pretty much everyone. Just have fun and survive — that way you can post your failures on Facebook. It’s a fun .