Is Good Ever Good Enough?

Friday, December 30th, 2005, 1:18 pm

When I was little, like 6 years old, I was over my friend’s house while his grandmother was visiting. We were playing at some game and one of us, I don’t remember, got mad or frustrated and had a little tantrum. Actually, I don’t think it was me, believe it or not. My friend said, “I’m not good at anything!”, and his grandmother said something that has stuck with me to this very day.

She said, “People are good at different things. No one is good at everything. But every single person in the world is the best in the world at something. You just need to find out what it is.”

Looking back at this statement thirty years later I see that this kind, gentle, smiling woman, who wanted to instill in us a sense of our own potential and the limitless wonder of the world, was totally full of SHIT. Not the first part, about people being good at different things and no one is good at everything. I’m with her on that. But the “everyone is the best at something” nonsense, even at six I should’ve seen that was a big steaming crock. I mean, there are like six BILLION people in the world. Are there six BILLION different activities/skills/talents human beings can lay claim to? How many verbs are there in all the languages in the world? How many nouns and adjectives? Six BILLION? I think not.

Unfortunately my friend and I spent considerable time trying to figure out what we were best at. At one point I thought I had it figured out–I was the best in the world at tossing a little stuffed football in the air, running underneath it, then leaping onto the couch while catching it. I was, I have to say, fabulous at it. I’d lay full out, never taking my eye off the ball, and I’d snag it every time. But then my dad heard the incessent “THUMP THUMP THUMP” and came in the living room and said, “Stop jumping on the goddam couch!” in a way that brooked no argument. Another genius repressed by the Man.

Eventually I figured out that I wasn’t the best in the world at anything. I was smart but my IQ didn’t test out over 200, was a good tennis player who never qualified for the WPIAL tourament. I don’t think I ever even reached the plateau that is “greatness”, which is rarefied air indeed but still a long ways away from the summit. The best. The best in the world.

All the time people say you should just try to be “the best that you can be”. Well, screw that. That’s a defeatist attitude, if you ask me. Frankly, in most areas “the best that I can do” is pretty crappy. It’s delusions of grandeur that allow most people to get out of bed in the morning. It is for me, anyway. I mean, on a certain level I “know” that I’ll never be a force on the PGA Tour, yet that doesn’t stop me from flying into a rage when I leave a 35-foot putt about twenty feet short of the hole. Even though I only golf once or twice a year, and though I probably wouldn’t be good even with years of expert instruction, I still expect myself to play like a scratch golfer. I used to think these unrealistic expecations marked me as ambitious; now I understand it just means I’m a jackass.

I started thinking about all this nonsense because I’m sitting at my desk in a pretty fair amount of pain. Volleyball is taking it’s toll. I hurt my quadricep about 6 weeks ago (I hit an innocent serve and heard a POP!) and while it doesn’t bother me much it does jab me occasionally with some serious discomfort. My right knee has this…thing sticking out just below the kneecap and it hurts like the proverbial bastard. After receiving an awkward set last night I sprained my thumb, which didn’t hurt at the time but now pains me every time I hit the space bar. And don’t even ask about my back.

I’ve been playing well the last year or so. Definite improvement. But unless I lose like 40 pounds, my career will end in a few years as my knees are reduced to Silly Putty. If I lost that much weight, if I could get a few inches more on my vertical (bringing it up to, oh, half a foot of lift) I might get really good.

Really good. Is that really the ceiling for me? Actually, the “really” might be streching it. I see players all the time who can jump out of the gym, can bend at the waist like Gumby, and hit the ball with near-homicidal force. Last year I played one night with a guy who was a setter for Penn State’s volleyball team (I think the year they won the NCAA title). He was about six-three and seemed to float about four feet above the net. Mind you, he was a setter. My friend Rick played against him another time and they had a rule where you could only hit a spike if you took off behind the 10-foot line. When this guy hit a spike, Rick said, “it came at you so fast the ball looked like a BB”.

If nothing else, life will humble you. Even those who ARE the best in the world at something. Look at Michael Jordan. Best basketball player of all time, decides to step off the hardwood and give baseball a shot. Was this hubris, or, perhaps, was he tired of the distance his brilliance put between him and the rest of humanity? We all wanted to Be Like Mike, maybe in some way Mike just wanted to Be Like Us. Just another guy trying to get Really Good at something he liked.

I think I’m a decent poker player, maybe even bordering on Good. I’m certainly not Really Good. And forget about Great. But since I started this blog my goal was to become a really good poker player. I haven’t made much progress, but I still have hope. I’m not sure what’s going to be the harder task–losing 40 pounds or rewiring my brain to play better poker. Well, I guess I’ll find out, as I’m gonna try to do both at the same time. After the New Year you can expect some very whiny posts about how much I miss french fries. And wings, oh, how I’m gonna miss chicken wings. With bleu cheese dressing…I promised myself I wouldn’t cry…

My thumb is friggin’ killing me so this will be my last post of 2005. Happy New Year, everybody. Hope yinz party dahn New Year’s Eve. Me, I’m gonna drink until all my aches and pains drift away. Advil and ginger ale have already been stockpiled.

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One Response to “Is Good Ever Good Enough?”

  1. Drizztdj Says:

    I played with two setters while playing on USVBA club teams…

    One was 5’4″ the other was 6’6″. You’ll never guess which one was more feared.

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