I, Me, Myself
I’m reading a book that I can’t believe I’m reading. Soccer Men — Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport, by Simon Kuper.
I’m not into sports at all, any kind of sports. But while I can occasionally get through a cricket or tennis match if I absolutely must, football just makes my eyes cross. I know nothing about it at all. I’ve heard of some players, yes, but the only one I’d ever recognise by face (if at all) would be David Beckham – and that only because of the movie Bend It Like Beckham, which I loved.
So why am I reading this book then?
Three reasons. One, it was highly recommended by Soumya Bhattacharya, resident editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai, on his blog. When Soumya recommends a book, you can pretty much buy it blind.
Two, it’s precisely because I know nothing about football that I’m reading this book (assured as I was that it is well written). I’m curious to know what people find so exciting about the game and what makes it so hot.
And three, as a person who’s never been competitive in her life, I wanted to know what makes people compare themselves to other people in their search for motivation, instead of simply just doing their best.
I wasn’t really expecting to find an answer to Point 3 in this book – but in a way, I did. In these interviews, the players didn’t seem to be comparing themselves to each other. If they did, it was only to the point of emulating the actions of their personal heroes. Mainly though, they just seemed to be out to do their best.
Of course, however insightful or in-depth an interview is, it can’t tell you everything. So though I got an answer to Point 3 in a way, I can’t say that my question really was answered because I’m not certain if it was even asked. (I suspect any sports journo reading this would want to kick a football in the direction of my head. You can speculate as much as you like, but you will rarely get a name in answer to the question ‘Who do you really want to beat?’, so why bother to ask the question in that case?)
So no luck there. And I continue to wonder, what makes people compare themselves to other people?
Sometimes the comparison can result in something positive. I remember, in school, one astounding year in which I went from science zero to science – well, not hero, but B+ average — based purely on the fact that one of my classmates – not a person I considered very bright – suddenly shot ahead of me in the class rankings. Unlike me, she’d realised that the board exams we’d be taking in a couple of years should be taken seriously, and she turned into a swot. I watched, incredulous, as this person who seldom ranked higher than 20 in a class of 36, zipped to a rank between 10 and 13, past me where I was happily ensconced at about 15. This can’t continue, I thought grimly, started swotting myself, and wound up ranked about 5 with not less than a B+ in most subjects, including maths and science.
But having proved to myself I could do it, I let it go and slid happily back to a position between 8 and 10. Any less and I’d have lost self-respect, but I didn’t particularly want to go any higher. I didn’t want to spend all my time with my nose in a textbook for one thing, and also I didn’t want to get into the nasty, competitive rat race that the top five rankers almost always fell into in any class. I just wanted to be left alone.
And that was a wise decision, I realised later when I started working and came slap bang into full-fledged office politics. It took me some years to understand this, but I learned that if you don’t want to get into politics, if you want to lead a relatively peaceful life doing what you like to do without having to defend your territory, you shouldn’t think about anyone but yourself. Or rather, you shouldn’t think about competing with anyone but yourself.
It isn’t always easy to do this because there are always comparisons to be made. But I’d simply make myself miserable if I spent time wondering why so-and-so earns more than I do when I work harder and better, or why I put in so much effort to achieve a certain standard when it’s clear that a lower level is acceptable. Every time I feel tempted to grumble or brood about someone else getting what I imagine is a better deal, I have to take a deep breath and think of what I’m getting and doing and how I feel about it. And if I feel bad about it, then I know it’s time to consider making a fuss or doing something else. But if I feel good about it, if it genuinely works for me, if I really do want to kill myself when I work to a lower standard than I need to, then why on earth should I make someone else’s standard a benchmark for me? Why should I let myself make someone else make me unhappy?