Happy taking part

At a birthday party mid-week I met a Nigerian doctor who I used to play football with. While I haven’t found the time to play since February, he still plays every week and says it’s one of the highlights of his life. This sparked a small thought in me. When it comes to playing football, we put in a lot of effort, try to improve, and perhaps occasionally take part in beautiful actions that give us a strong sense of satisfaction. We get joy from taking part, from testing ourselves, becoming better, and the exhilaration of the game.

But we don’t tend to get hang-ups if we’re not the best on the pitch – some people (yes, through nuture rather than nature) are accepted as more talented footballers than others, and we just admire what they are doing, while measuring ourselves to our own standards.

It struck me that this sort of attitude is exactly what we often hear in wider life-management. “Don’t stress about others’ achievements and successes, everyone is starting in a different place, and your job is just to run your own race from where you are.” Yet, an attitude that comes naturally in sport, seems to be far more difficult to apply in a different category – life. That’s an area in which we are constantly comparing our performance to others – ‘how did he manage to achieve that?’, ‘if I had what she had’, ‘it’s unfair me starting where I started, while he started from a different place’.

Even worse, and I don’t know how common this feeling is, but we want to be the best, and feel down on ourselves if we’re not. We can get down if we’re just mediocre, run-of-the-mill and standard in certain areas of our lives – we want to stand-out, be admired, be world-class.

Yet that’s not an attitude we bring to the beautiful game. We’re almost never the best footballer on the pitch, on our street, and in our community. Yet that doesn’t seem such a threat to our ego.

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