Different people have different talents. Michelangelo chiseled marble better than just about anybody. Lennon and McCartney were geniuses at composing hit songs. I am good at coming up with grossly misleading blog-post titles.
I discovered I would never be an NBA star in ninth-grade gym class. A several boys, including me, were given basketballs and told to practice jump shots and lay-ups. A few shots went in, some bounced off the rim, and most rebounded off the backboard. Except mine. Mine were off by 10 feet. I was throwing ‘em over the backboard, under the backboard, into the bleachers… everything but net. There was something about the timing of jumping and throwing that I couldn’t quite get.
After about three minutes of this mayhem, the gym teacher (a barrel-chested little bulldog of a man whose name I can’t recall) pulled me aside to have a chat.
“Eric,” he said. “I want to get you some help. I know it’s tough being a kid these days with all the temptations and everything. But we’re going to get you cleaned up.”
I stared at him, baffled. What the hell was he talking about?
He went on. “It’ll just be between you, me, the school nurse, and the guidance counselor. So what are you on? Quaaludes? Percocet? Meth?”
My face expression must have been like that of a nun being asked her favorite sexual position. “But I don’t take–”
“Now, don’t worry. We aren’t going to tell your parents. We just want to get you some help.”
“I don’t take drugs!” I said. I’d never even smoked a cigarette.
“Look, son, no one can be that bad at basketball naturally.”
I had two choices at this point. I could quit basketball, or I could practice my butt off, every day after school, to prove to that gym teacher and the world that I wasn’t the world’s worst basketball player, sober or otherwise. What do you think I did?
I certainly didn’t stay after school to practice basketball, that’s for sure. I suck at it. Why should I torture myself just so I can move up a notch or two on the spazmo scale and force some other poor shmuck to be the worst? I’d rather spend that time doing something I’m good at, like writing.
The moral of my story is that showing determination is great, but not if my reason for doing so is because I’m comparing myself to someone else. Had I loved basketball but been bad at it, I might have stuck with it. Eventually I would have been OK. But I really don’t care if I suck at that sport. Let someone else be good.
Writing, on the other hand, I love. I want to keep improving so I can tell better stories that are more exciting and emotionally powerful for my readers. I’m probably a more skilled writer than any of those kids in my ninth-grade gym class turned out to be, considering the time and effort I’ve put into the craft. But who cares if I’m not? I can only be the best I can be.
So the moral of the moral of this story is, “Comparing yourself against the achievements of others will only make you irritable and more likely to eat too many potato chips.”
[Special thanks to Phil’s Misadventures in Fiction for partially inspiring this post]
Today’s theme-appropriate music selection is from Annie get Your Gun