Soccer and the Spin Cycle of Doubt



Growing up, I participated in soccer. It’s my one and only attempt at the team sport variety of athleticism—emphasis on “attempt.” If enthusiasm could win games, I was on top every time. But truth be told, I was the kid who would forget which goal was mine and which was the other team’s, and I made my fair share of scores for the enemy side. My sense of excitement just couldn’t make up for my complete lack of direction.

At the end of the year, though, every member of my team would receive a participatory ribbon or trophy—some sort of A-for-effort token. It is exactly the kind of thing that means absolutely nothing when you give it to both the star player and the star player for the other side, i.e. someone with my sense of direction. (Wink. Wink.) Handing out rewards just for being on the field seems arbitrary at best and downright unfair at worst. Shouldn’t the star players be the only ones going home with the trophies and ribbons? People as directionally challenged as I should probably go find something else to do, right? Eventually that’s exactly what I did, throwing my participation tokens into the trash, filling my world instead with music and books.

Now I understand something about those participation tokens that I didn’t then. It’s true: not everybody is the star player on the team. Some of us (cough) are downright terrible, if we’re willing to admit it. But looking back, I see the courage it took to do it anyway, to try and learn and grow.

I wonder when it was that I stopped believing that stepping out on the field, enthusiasm in tow, was enough. Somewhere along the way, I began to think I should only participate in the things I knew I would rock. If there was a chance I’d step out in the wrong direction or score for the other team, it wasn’t the activity for me. I forgot that it’s possible to survive a good faceplant, and that if we aren’t growing, it’s possibly we’re actually wilting.

Lately, I’ve tried to embrace a bolder state of mind. I’ve stepped out in a few areas and tried to put myself into situations that scare me and hold nothing but uncertainty. As I’ve stepped out onto the playing field, I’ve heard these words tumble over and over in my mind,  like the spin cycle on a washing machine: “Who do you think you are?”

I’ve worked towards authenticity in relationships. Who do you think you are?
I’ve put on my lipstick and headed out on dates. Who do you think you are?
I’ve strung words together and pressed “publish.” Who do you think you are?
I’ve gone to events outside my comfort zone. Who do you think you are?
I’ve been creative. I’ve shared ideas and dreams. Who do you think you are?

Who do you even think you are, Bethany?

The problem with this question is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuuum. I could easily list a dozen ways I’ve taken the ball and run straight for the wrong goal in a way that’s obvious to all, just this week. I’ve attempted a few things that I’ve just been flat out no good at, and I’ve experienced my fair share of awkward and clumsy. And you know what? There’s always someone to point out that fact. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you don’t even need another person around.

But lately, I’m skeptical of a world that acknowledges success only as hashtagwinning, and I’m worn out from being stuck in the questioning spin cycle. I’ve begun to wonder what it might look like to celebrate with each other not just on the times we score an obvious goal, but simply by the fact that we’ve taken that step onto the field. We’re there, in the game, together. Pumping our legs up and down, gasping for air, participating in life whether there’s a trophy at the end or not.

Maybe I need to drown out the drone of “Who do you think you are?” with some other, equally important questions. “Why not me? Hey, did you see me try? Did you see me get closer to where I want to be—who I want to be? And what if I’m not the best at … [fill in the blank.] So what?

What I see from the people I truly admire is grit and the determination to keep forging forward no matter how many times they fall down. They remind me of this: I can wait until I think I’ve got it all together to type out words, reach out to people, have that hard conversation. Or I can choose another way—moving forward, step by step, as unsure as I’ll ever be. I can ask myself over and over again who I think I am, or I can ask myself why not me?

As I take a first step, I find myself begin to soften. I begin to see the bravery in others, and even let myself believe in mine. I see sweet, sweet grace. And I take another step.


Image credit: Michelle Milla