I’m a huge reader. Words thrill me. Their nuances, flexibility, and sheer poignancy make me giddy. Sometimes, a random sentence punches me in the gut. Sometimes, it lovetaps me upside the head. This morning, I got the latter. I read the above quote by Seth Godin, and it catapulted me back to seventh grade.
Do you remember how in gym class we had different units? Sometimes, we played tennis. Sometimes, we played kickball or baseball. When we were doing a team-sports unit, the gym teachers chose different kids to be captains of the teams?
And then the popularity contest began. Some of us lingered in the “no man’s land” of last to be chosen. I wasn’t always last, but I was close to the end. Particularly, the captains chose me last because I didn’t understand the rules of American sports games like baseball and football.
English wasn’t my first language and I didn’t speak it all that well when everyone was learning the rules. No one explained them to me, and I didn’t know how to ask. So, I made errors that lost games because I had no clue what I was doing. I got a reputation as someone to avoid, and the rep stuck. It stuck until 8th grade when the unit was (field) hockey. I was from the Soviet Union. Hockey, I knew!
I wanted someone to choose me for their team, but I realized my rep would ensure that wouldn’t happen. When the teacher asked for volunteers to be captain, I raised my hand.
I chose the people I thought would make the best team. Sure enough, we took first place! I was good at putting in the right people for the job depending on what we needed to do. I’d watched enough hockey as a kid to know when I needed fast runners and when I needed good stick handlers on the field. So, after a tough two-week season, we won!
That didn’t remove my “choose her last,” rap, but it sure helped. And it taught me a valuable lesson.
I could have stayed on the sidelines and waited for someone to choose me. I could have promised the captains that I knew these rules and would be a good teammate. Or I could grab the opportunity to take the power in my own hands. I did that. I chose myself.
What’s more, I believed in myself. Although I’d never actually played hockey before, I felt I could do it. And it turned out I was a pretty good shot. Was I the best? No that belonged to Jeff Gutman who was an actual ice hockey player. Not everyone in the class knew that so I got to pick him first. He and another kid were my dynamic duo and helped us win the championship.
And that was another lesson for me. Once you choose yourself, use every tool at your disposal. The other captains chose friends. I chose the people who would make the best team. Were they all the best athletes in the class? No. I certainly wasn’t. But I thought they would work together well. What’s more, I thought I could lead them. And I did.
What a huge moment for me to figure out I could. If I hadn’t chosen myself, I would have warmed the bench. As it was, everyone I chose got to play sometimes. I didn’t just have my two stars carry the team to victory. And even the kids who weren’t the best athletes had their chances to shine on the field. Me included.
None of that would have happened if I hadn’t taken a chance and stepped up to lead.
I chose myself, and today, almost forty years later, I still think of those two weeks with pride.