There is no “I” in “ego” — strangely enough

That's not me.

That’s not me.

At the school where I work, the staff sometimes organizes games against the students. If anyone asks me why I don’t participate, I’ll explain, “I have a medical condition.” If they press me further, I’ll say, “I’m allergic to humiliation.”

Or sometimes I’ll convince myself that I’m simply not competitive. It’s easy for a man who’s not good at many things to say he’s not competitive until he finds that thing he’s good at. I play Trivial Pursuit like lives are hanging in the balance. My wife likes to remind me how I forced everyone into Monopoly bankruptcy rather than make deals, even though that’s the whole point of the game and it happened one time!

So I am competitive, and I do hate humiliation and I am bad at sports. The solution, therefore, is to avoid sports at all costs, unless it’s against people who are worse than me, i.e. my children… when they were much younger.

But when my wife asked me to be on her workplace volleyball team for a one-day tournament, what choice did I have? “It’s just for fun,” Deb said.

Sports, of course, are never just for fun. If they were, they’d be called “sprites” or “athletickles” or “darts.”

Besides, a small part of me thought maybe this would be the sport I’m good at. Maybe, on the cusp of 50, I would discover I’m a serving specialist, a volleying virtuoso, a spiking savant. This could be my greatest athletic moment since I was the fastest rope climber in Grade 8.

I’ll kill the suspense: it wasn’t.

Oh, I started out okay. Even though this was probably the first time I’d played volleyball since senior high (by which time my rope-climbing exploits had been overshadowed by countless floor-hockey debacles), I accomplished my one major goal: I served the ball over the net.

In fact, in our first game, I made some points, blocked some shots and was a solid average in most positions. I learned that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you make the play as long as you fall spectacularly trying to do so. I also learned that calling “I got it!” is much more helpful than shouting, “That’s yours!”

I can’t remember if we won that first game, because it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose; it matters that I didn’t suck.

I do know that we caught a break by playing a team that, like ours, was more or less thrown together. There wasn’t a whole lot of athleticism going on. It was no darts, that’s for sure.

Our second game, though, was against a team that had obviously played before. They had moves. They had skill. They had T-shirts.

They pounded our team, which, again, isn’t important. What’s important is that I could no longer serve the ball. My one goal!

I had been using an overhand serve because it looks cooler and is less grandmotherly than underhand. And I had been managing it. But then this happened: I threw the ball up with my left hand, and it just kind of squibbled off my fingers into the air, leaving me no choice but to punch it forward with my right hand. I lurched and twisted and the ball flumped well this side of the net. Laughter and humiliation, right on cue.

After that, I was done. I didn’t make another serve. I flubbed saves, I sent balls out of bounds, I collided with players. At one point, I got so excited when I scored an actual point that I high-fived myself.

Mostly, though, I wallowed. I hated not being good. I hated being embarrassed. Fun? I wasn’t having fun at all. Why did I agree to this?

Then I realized that no one cared. In fact, no one probably even noticed. Humiliation is a product of ego and the belief that you’re important enough for other people to judge, let alone pay attention to. But people have their own things going on. Some of them are thinking they suck at volleyball too – except for that T-shirt team with their freaky Ninja moves. Others are focused on having a pleasant afternoon hanging out with families and friends, listening to live music, playing a little volleyball, chuckling at people sprawling headfirst into the sand.

That should have been my goal: not to let my ego get in the way of a good time. In the end, the only person who will remember those flubbed shots is me – that is, until next time my wife’s team is looking for players.




About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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31 Responses to There is no “I” in “ego” — strangely enough

  1. “Humiliation is a product of ego and the belief that you’re important enough for other people to judge, let alone pay attention to.” Damn! Why aren’t you on Oprah? Seriously though. What an awesome concept and so, so true.
    p.s. Volleyball is Satan’s game.

  2. James says:

    As if humiliation wasn’t bad enough – now I have to feel guilty about it? I think I’ve got about another year left before my nephew realises I completely suck at football – for the moment he still thinks I’m awesome…

  3. Paul says:

    Ha! I laughed out loud at “sprites” and “athletickles”. So very true. I too fall into the same category Ross. My one redeeming sport was badminton – not exactly a sport with a great machismo factor. At all others I was a notable failure. And I will add that it is difficult to impress girls as a teen, with lines like: “The shuttlecock sailed gaily over the net, scoring me a point.” or “My linen white shorts gleamed as I pranced across the court.”

    I can certainly understand there being no “I ” in ego – just because we are from the East Coast and are only able to afford small cars doesn’t mean we weren’t taught our verb conjugations:

    I go
    ‘e go

  4. christawojo says:

    Volley ball is the worst! I could never hit a clean shot and always felt stupid. I’m so glad those days of gym class are over. I would never play willingly. My ego just can’t handle it.

  5. Tez says:

    My best sports were hiking, rock climbing and potholing. Not really spectator sports but every one of us got a cheer from the others in the group when we reached our destination or the next handhold. Ah, those all too soon lived early years . . . sigh. My other ‘sports’ were cryptic crosswords, bridge and drinking every other patron in the bar under the table. Again, a life of sorts badly missed, although I still do a mean cryptic crossword every now and then. It keeps me limber and ready to do a round or two of Scrabble with the computer. As you say, it’s all good fun.

  6. franhunne4u says:

    Bah, the only sport I can beat you all in is marathon-sleeping – I learned from the best – my cats.

  7. Karen says:

    I played volleyball in high school, and by “played” I mean “rode the bench” until the last game of my senior year when Nicole Messinger got a ball spiked in her face, broke her nose, and gushed blood everywhere. She had to leave the game, and then coach looked around, even asked for volunteers from the crowd in attendance, before she set her eyes on me and said, “Okay, looks like you’re in.”

    Anyway, it’s a tough game. I once worked for a company that decided one year to hold a “Company Olympics!” because that would be “fun” (“Fun” being one of the corporate values, you see). I was on the right side of twenty at the time, so I was all for it, but there were a lot of folks who did not agree with that definition of “fun” (and now that I’m facing the wrong side of thirty, I totally commiserate). Lots of golf outings and softball games, too, for a bunch of folks who probably would have felt better playing beer pong.

  8. Hey, do you play Trivia Crack? I’m always looking for new victims. I mean…competitors.

    Is that you in the background with the moobs?

    Is there a video of these humiliations on YouTube you’d like to share.

    I, too, avoid getting into situations where I can possibly be beaten because I usually am. (Trivia Crack notwithstanding.) I’ve, literally, never played a game of basketball in my life. I wouldn’t know how. Not for nothing, but guys who act on stage are rarely successful in the sports arena.

  9. ksbeth says:

    i always seem to smack the ball with a fervor (and some sore part of my wrist area), only to have the ball shoot somewhere out of bounds, and dramatically far away from where it was meant to go. lost my pride and the game many times.

  10. Hahaha 🙂 Athletic humiliation is the mother of great writing? 🙂

  11. Trent Lewin says:

    I think there is something very wise about this… yes, humiliation is just made up and you’re the only one who really notices… until someone laughs at your or something. Happens to me when playing golf. Hate that game but you have to play in a group, and there are groups ahead and behind you. Humiliation abounds, as does the potential to nail someone with a ball. Perhaps golf is the exception to your moral here? I dunno. Also, you have a nice ass. I had to say that.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yes, external and ritualized humiliation (aka golf) is another thing altogether. I’ve given up on golf because it’s too frustrating and, yes, humiliating. And other golfers yell at you. Stupid sport. Unless you’re good at it, then it’s great fun.
      Alas, that’s not my ass.

      • Trent Lewin says:

        I know it’s not your ass, I think you said as much, but I only get to say nice ass so many times in the blogosphere… Golf sucks! But it actually seems like a business requirement in some way, and that is just lame.

  12. Liz says:

    But wait. I spend like 99% of my brain power worrying about humiliating myself in front of other people. Are you saying this mental space could be used for … gasp…other things? What shall I do with my life?! If it makes you feel any better (it probably won’t) I played volleyball for three years and STILL can’t serve over the net. I sat on the bench a lot.

  13. markbialczak says:

    I’m with you on the initial reaction, Ross. I really suck at not caring when I suck at something!

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