In seventh grade I tried to fit in by joining both the basketball and football teams, the latter of which I quit almost immediately. Couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out where to put all those goddamn pads and I finally drew the line at that cup thing. When I realized that it had to go in my underwear (or outside? Honestly, have no idea.), that was the end of that adventure. At 5’5” and 110lbs, it probably wasn’t the game for me anyway. I know the coach was really sorry to see me go.
I did, however, stick with basketball for a good bit of the season. At least half of it, if I remember correctly. And, surprisingly, my small size was not my biggest disadvantage. Nor was it my team’s. Nope. The biggest disadvantage was my COMPLETE inability to operate within a live team setting.
It would‘ve been hilarious (and surely was for onlookers) if not so embarrassing. I have vivid memories of running around like a bewildered fool, losing track of the person I was meant to be guarding, taking wild shots at the worst of times, passing directly into the hands of opposing players, never knowing where I was supposed to be, and always hoping that fucking ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me. I wasn’t above pretending not to see the ball in order to avoid the stress of having that sweaty little orb of responsibility cast upon me.
One moment, in particular, I remember as if it were yesterday. There I was, standing flat-footed just outside the three-point line in my typical mystified state, draped in a bright gold and purple oversized jersey, surrounded by people darting back and forth with some sort of organized purpose. I was alone. Or “open” I guess you’d say. Just me, minding my business, standing still amidst the chaos.
And that’s when it happened.
Some jerk passed the ball right to me and I instinctively grabbed hold. If I had it to do over again, I’d turn away and let it bounce off my back. But I grabbed it. And that meant I had to do something with it, but what that something was I had no idea. That’s when my best friend, John, a superstar in my eyes, yelled out “SHOOT IT!” And without even a moment of consideration for where I was on the court, I did just that. I shot it.
Except I didn’t really shoot it. Rather I threw it, with all the power I could muster, toward that small red hoop off in the distance. And like a tired cliche, time slowed down to a near standstill so I could fully experience the beauty of that basketball leaving my hands, arching ever so slightly upward, speeding toward its target, and finally gliding gracefully right past the bottom of the net, slamming into the padded wall at the end of the gymnasium. It was beautiful.
I later realized that what John probably meant was for me to dribble the ball up the completely open court and take a shot from a reasonable distance. A layup perhaps. But he didn’t say that and so I blame him.
My basketball career ended on that day, and man alive was I relieved. I suspect my team shared that relief.
My short time on the court showed me two things: 1) I hate team sports. Don’t like watching them, don’t like playing them. And 2) my brain doesn’t perform well in that type of real-time group scenario. Didn’t then, still doesn’t.
My brain requires time, space, visual aids, and isolation to perform at its best.
Why am I sharing this? Because I think it’s important to be honest with ourselves about what we’re good at and what we’re bad at so we can build a lifestyle that plays to our strengths.
If I had to design in front of clients, for instance, I’d be the most unsuccessful designer in history. Why? Because, for me, design takes time. Lots of it. I consider and reconsider every detail over and over again for days and weeks and months. It drives me mad. It would drive a client to murder. So I don’t design in front of people. Period. Whether for a client, for my business, or for myself, design is a personal endeavor that I do alone. Real-time feedback throws me off my game.
Another place this holds true for me is with writing. The other day a friend read aloud an article he’d written with at least some anticipation of feedback. My response? “I like it.” A more honest response would have been “What?”
Not because I didn’t understand what he was saying, but because I can’t effectively keep track of and process an entire article’s worth of data when read to me. After a paragraph or so I’m thinking about cookies. Send it to me in an email, give me a day or two to sit with it, and I’ll return some thoughtful feedback. If not, then “I like it!”
Knowing this about myself has had a great impact on the way I structure both my work and personal life. If a scenario doesn’t fit within my process, I either adjust it so it does, say no to it entirely, or make the choice to step out of my comfort zone.
What I don’t do anymore is take overhand shots from half court.