Softball was something that I can confidently say I was actually good at. Before high school, I was one of only a few players who could catch the big, airborne hits to the outfield. For a long time I resented this, as it often kept me stuck at right field when I wasn’t pitching. I resented it, but at the same time, I knew I was good. One of my travel team coaches had said at the start of a season that for every hit to the outfield caught, he’d buy us a soda, and by the end of that summer, I was eleven cokes richer.
So when we all got to high school, the softball coaches were aware of us from our travel team, and they knew where we’d all played. I’d been on good teams, and this was a high school known for it’s good softball, so they knew to put me right back in right field since there were way more senior pitchers ahead of me. I’d made Junior Varsity as a freshman, as did most of my classmates who I’d played with on competitive travel teams growing up. And for the most part it was fun. My teammates weren’t the nicest people on the planet, but I did well on that team. The JV coach liked me, and she and her husband (who was the Varsity coach) seemed to have a soft spot for me (maybe because I got picked on? Now that I think about it…? wtf). I do think part of it was because I just really liked playing, and I didn’t complain or waste anyone’s time. I didn’t throw a hissy-fit at not pitching because I didn’t particularly love or hate pitching. I didn’t really feel strongly about anything sports-related because as much as I was good at sports and found moments I enjoyed (like my friends growing up or batting), it was more work and stress than I cared for. I never quit though because my dad seemed to enjoy helping out (he never wanted to be a coach or anything–I think my allergy to bureaucracy is thanks to him). The one and only time I wanted to quit a team partway through was my travel soccer team and he wouldn’t let me because I made a commitment. While I get where he was going parenting-wise–trying to bestow ~*~LiFe~LeSsoNs~*~ I think it was stupid. I think it was important that I’d have been taught that it was OK to quit some times, under the right circumstances.
Anywho, back to softball! After a very successful freshman year playing JV, I tried out as usual in my sophomore year. After a week-long tryout, they pulled me aside on the final day. It turns out, they wanted to give me a choice about which team I wanted to be on, as they had been debating it back and forth all week. They knew I was qualified for Varsity, but knew that with the number of upperclassmen they had, that I would be sitting on the bench for most of the season. But I would be on ~VaRsItY~, get the jacket, get the prestige? Which sounded and still sounds like such bullshit but that’s what so many people were about in high school! But they knew that I didn’t give a flying fuck about any type of status symbols or faux prestige that befalls a high school varsity athlete. The Varsity coach still wanted me there, to attend practices and just be on the team, but the JV coach argued that I’d be miserable, and would much rather be on JV and actually get to play.
She was totally right, much to the confusion of my teammates. I’d rather play on JV, and play in every single game, actively contributing to my team’s success than sit on Varsity and be a fly on the wall.
I think about this story a lot lately, especially when it comes to my career, what I want, and what it means to be successful. I’ve found myself using this example far more often to try to explain how I feel about certain situations and possible outcomes. That, some times the better choice isn’t the one that screams out success in the traditional sense. That for me, making larger, more active contributions to a small goal/team is more meaningful than a droplet in a pool. That the day-to-day stress and dog-eat-dog back-stabbiness of high school sports wasn’t worth compromising my personal happiness with each day’s practice and games. Part of that was definitely due to the fact that I had no future plans tied up in softball or any sport for that matter. I knew that I wanted to go to university without any other commitments taking up my time, but there were many girls gunning for scholarships. Which is totally valid, and all the more reason I, a casual observer (basically) didn’t mind just having fun. It’s different when you have end goals.
But lately I am realizing that that’s not necessarily true for me anymore.
I do have end goals, and things I want, but I’ve also become even less tolerant of certain things, and more aware of myself and what I want both long-term and day-to-day. And that’s a big deal for me, as someone who has never felt like I’ve had a strong sense of self. Like, this is something that I’ve actively been aware of, that I’ve seen grown and develop in me, and that’s pretty rad. I think a big part of it is pride, and as I mentioned, what you define as success and knowing to let go of dreams. There was this feeling from my old teammates that I was being left behind, that I should be embarrassed, but in my eyes, they were benchwarmers, I was a starting player. In the four years we were in high school, I played, let’s say 100 games to their 25. But I did also understand that that was their priority, and they were entitled to their feelings and whatever goals they wanted. Maybe at one point I did imagine playing on varsity as a younger player, and while I never wanted a varsity jacket, they were cool–I’d wear one if I had it. But that shifted. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Not the strongest “moral of the story” but just something I’ve been ruminating on it.