It’s natural to want to be good at everything you put your mind to. Not only does it feel good, but it also helps justify the amount of effort you put in.
But as much as striving to be excellent at something helps us push forward and improve, being rigid in that mindset can hold us back from doing so many things.
‘I’m not good at that’
Be it consciously or not, often we’ll try something and never do it again. We might have enjoyed it but our internal weighing up deemed that the effort and time required for us to excel in it is not available. It’s not a priority.
So we stop doing it. Even though we really liked it.
How many sports have you tried, enjoyed and never played again? Maybe you already have one or two that you pursue — that you deliberately put the time and effort into so you can be great at them. You don’t have the time or energy to become great in others.
But here’s the thing.
You don’t have to be good at all the others. You don’t have to be excellent. You don’t even have to improve. You don’t have to be a runner/cyclist/tennis player in order to do those things.
Relearning how to play
Children do all sorts of sports in school and in their leisure time. Some stick to a specific sport with the intention of becoming excellent, but many just try whatever’s going and have fun.
And I did this as a child and a teenager. At sixteen my friends and I would beg/borrow/steal tennis rackets and head off to the free, council-run tennis courts in the next town over.
We’d hit balls around for hours in the sunshine with little idea of the rules and certainly never keeping score. We’d head to the playing field and invent games with whatever equipment we had. A cross between tennis and rounders? Sure, why not?
We played. It was great exercise and we did it often through the summer holidays but we never thought of it as exercise. Or sport. We weren’t playing tennis in order to become People Who Play Tennis or even to get better at it. We were just having fun and enjoying being outside.
But this changed as I grew older. Suddenly it felt like you had to define yourself as Something. Someone.
Are you a cyclist? Well…yes in the sense that I cycle pretty much everywhere but no in the sense that I don’t race (anymore). So am I a cyclist? It sorts of sounds like I need to fulfil some arbitrary criteria to be considered a doer in any sport.
Are you a rock climber? Well…yes in the sense that I’ve been doing it for many years and still do it. But now summer’s here, I’m doing other things, like running and messing about with frisbee and tennis. So would I qualify as a rock climber? I haven’t been on a crag in a few years, only the indoor wall.
It’s strangely tempting to stop doing the things entirely that I wouldn’t define myself as being. Simply because I’m not excellent. Or committed to pursuing excellence.
I’ve never been committed to being an excellent rock climber. And yet I’ve climbed for over ten years and in several countries. Naturally I’ve improved, but I do it for fun. Not #gains.
And I never realised this before now. I never realised that I consciously didn’t try some sports because I knew I would never commit to them.
Do it for the hell of it
We formalise exercise a lot and I wonder if that’s where the reticence comes from. The term ‘workout’ and ‘exercise’ conjures feelings of effort, tiredness and discomfort.
But ‘play’? That only brings up images of fun.
Play is not really about deliberate improvement, even though it often involves a lot of exercise. But the word ‘play’ itself releases the pressure and the negative connotations, the connotations of difficulty.
As adults we can also get self-conscious when we’re not good at a sport. What right do we have to take up a tennis court when we can’t even hit the ball in a straight line?
No one was born holding a tennis racket and the more we avoid sports just because we’re adults and suck at them, it doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to do them.
And you know what the good people think when they see people playing something and not being very good? They don’t think, ‘god, they shouldn’t be here’. They think, ‘ooo, well who cares if I miss a few balls, I’m way better than them!’
And we should take comfort in this — we’re stoking their ego! And we’re having fun — and getting exercise without even thinking of it as such.
There is nothing wrong with doing sports that you suck at. That you don’t have much intention of getting consciously better at (although you will without realising it).
Because playing is good for us. It prevents frustration and eradicates pressure. We’re just there to have a good time!
You don’t have to only do the things you’re good at. Honestly.
Have the courage to suck at something and do it anyway. It’s so much fun.
Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk