Anyone who has met me knows that one of the most memorable things about me is that I’m 6’7″ tall. Leading to the most common small-talk question I get: “Do you play basketball?” For most of my life, the answer has been very simple. No. And if I’m feeling particularly vexed, I’ll answer “No, do you play miniature golf?”
When I was in ninth grade, I grew six inches in one year, which resulted in a tall and comically uncoordinated teenager. On the playground, team captains would always pick me first to be on their basketball team, even though I would protest that I was not good at basketball. “You’re tall – just stand there and shoot!” they would say. Then, about halfway through the game, after I missed my 10th layup, somebody would say “Dude, you suck at basketball!” Needless to say, it didn’t take long before I swore a vow to never play basketball again. Ever.
This was one of those rash teenage decisions that somehow stuck. I kept that vow for nearly 30 years. I rowed crew in high school and college, then learned volleyball after I moved to California, but never played basketball again. Until last year.
Last year, a friend organized a group of dads more as a social experiment than as a sporting event, and the activity was basketball. I tried to bow out, but was persuaded to join by the fact that a number of the guys had never played basketball before. Much to my surprise, I found I really enjoyed the game. I was still terrible, but playing with friends – real friends, who would keep passing to me even as I missed shot after shot – made me want to keep trying. I now play with this group as often as I can, about every other week or so, combining great exercise and bonding time. And now I don’t suck at basketball nearly as much.
This experience made me think about what other assumptions I am carrying from 30 years ago (or 20, or even 10 years ago). Ruts come in many different shapes and sizes, and sometimes can be hard to recognize, but they all benefit from regular re-visiting to see if they’re still taking you the direction you want to go.
Now when people ask me if I play basketball, I still answer “not really.” But now instead reminding me of failure, it makes me think of spending time with friends and learning new things. Some things actually do change.