So I’m just not feeling massively inspired to write today but I didn’t want to leave you high and dry. Instead I’ve delved into the Sarah archive for you. I wrote this piece in my writing class when I was in America. It’s about the obsessive need to win and whether that’s healthy or necessary to living an authentic life. I think they’re questions worth answering, so enjoy:
People seem obsessed with winning, consumed by it. The simplest game of monopoly can cause chaos in friendships. Even walking into an elevator seems to be some kind of competition these days. Moving through life battling people we don’t even know. Are we hot-wired to have this unnecessary need to be competitive, to win? Or are we taught to be?
When I was eight my best friend told me about this football team she’d heard of. She was Elen, with one ‘l’ and her hair was strawberry blonde, not ginger. And we loved football. So did my dad. For the next seven years, Sunday mornings were just for us. Whilst everybody else slept peacefully in, we braved the north English winter. Sometimes the ground would be so hard the studs of my boots couldn’t even penetrate it. Like that would stop us. My dad was the perfect kind of supporter. Maybe it’s just because he’s a quiet guy, but he’d never shout instructions at me from the side line like other parents. Whenever I looked over after I’d missed a really important tackle he’d just smile and shrug his shoulders, ‘don’t worry, next time you’ll get her’. At half time he’d squish my tiny child hands in between his giant gloved hands and rub them until they’d warm up. He’d blow on them and make it look like he was playing the trombone or something, telling me words of encouragement so I’d forget about the stinging pain of my hands starting to freeze. When I thought not winning would be the end of the world, my dad understood that we were children. This was supposed to be fun.
And maybe it was because of the support I got from him or maybe I was just programmed to do it but I loved sport. I cared about it. I played anything I could. Rounders, hockey, basketball. I loved it so much I even played sports I didn’t care much for, just enjoyed the adrenaline of running around, being active. I played netball when I thought it a misogynists answer to women playing basketball. I played hockey even though I was legitimately afraid that the ball was going to knock my teeth out or my knuckles were going to slice across the concrete. And I even got bribed in to playing rugby. I was the kicker. And the 98% of the time I wasn’t in fact kicking, I spent at the side of the pitch gagging on my mouth guard hoping to Jesus that I didn’t get tackled.
And then I was asked to decide the future of what until now had been a major part of my life. Maybe it wouldn’t have come to such a catastrophic ending if I hadn’t been directly challenged to decide. They wanted us to take a qualification at my high school. It was a privilege they said. Just try it for a week, my dad said. But at thirteen, I wasn’t the same person anymore. I didn’t care about sport. I didn’t care about winning. I’d slowly dropped out of each team. I didn’t have any fight left. It’s not a matter of passion though. I still cared about things, music and reading. I even still followed our football team, Everton. I just didn’t want to play. I just wasn’t competitive anymore. Did it happen overnight? I don’t know. I don’t remember one defining moment at least. I just didn’t care about hitting, throwing or kicking a variant of rubber or leather. Not anymore.
But how can you just lose that? This is one of the only times in my life my dad and I had completely disagreed. He couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t take this opportunity, yet he couldn’t see that I had changed. I was growing up. Everyone assumed for so long that I’d do the sport thing for the rest of my life – even myself – that when it all evaporated I think he was in denial. I’d been to the classes for a week and I whole-heartedly knew this wasn’t the way I saw my life going. You’re throwing away a brilliant chance, Sarah. He just couldn’t get it. I’d sit in my garden at night on the cold concrete and cry. I couldn’t have the conversation again but could I just say no? I was still a kid and this was uncharted water. Now my parents were even arguing, my mother asking my dad if he cared more about sport than his daughter. Whilst I listened to the fight through the brick wall my back was leaning against, I reevaluated my own life and what I thought were the important things. I realised I didn’t need to be competitive. It’s kind of self-destructive. Just listen to them in there! You constantly need to prove to yourself and others that you’re good enough, that you’re right. That you’re better? Who knows. But if people just stepped back and compared themselves to who they were yesterday rather than the hundreds of thousands of others in the world they’d probably be happier. Now I saw not winning as a casual thing, if it happened it happened. My dad thought it was the end of the end. But it wasn’t even the winning he cared about; he just didn’t want me to miss a good opportunity. And to his credit, ultimately all he wanted was my happiness so we closed the doors on that part of our history. Moved on to new things.
I used to get really annoyed when my brother would beat me at fifa. I was that sore loser who’d switch the game off with minutes to go because I was never going to win and it bothered me. Now he wins 9-0 and we laugh at the four own goals I managed to score. He doesn’t care; he just wants someone to play with. And I’ve got to say, it’s liberating. Not caring. It’s incredible. I’m not competitive. I used to be. Now I see the more important things: happiness, fulfilment, the fun of the activity. How can such a big part of you change, alter and even disappear without you even noticing? I have no idea. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
Nature Of The Experiment – Tokyo Police Club