A Most Miserable Word

by admin on March 23, 2011

If there’s one word that can be used to describe my athletic abilities it’s ‘almost’. I almost scored a goal. Almost made the basket. Almost won the point. Almost is not a fun word. It’s a reflection of failure. It says “not quite”, “close but no cigar”, “nice try bucko”. In short, as a word, it’s all most distressing.

Songwriters have used it to highlight the pain of lost love as in Jimmy Webb’s song “Didn’t We.”

This time we almost made the pieces fit, Didn’t we, girl.  This time we almost made some sense of it, Didn’t we girl.”

Over the years I’ve gotten used to it. Well, almost. I would much rather be a great athlete, a skilled soccer star, a talented musician. But I’ve become accustomed to being a decent if uninspired soccer player, an enthusiastic if rather untalented athlete and a lousy musician but a lover of music.

Not alone in my misery

I have come to realize I’m not unique in this. It happens to, well, almost everyone. Even great athletes have their failures. Take baseball. If a player manages to get a hit 3 times out of ten he’s considered a star batsman. In other words failing only 70 percent of the time makes him a star, adored by fans, sought after by the media and probably pretty darn rich too.

And how many times have you seen a star quarterback make a bad throw or a tennis star hit a shot out when she had the court open and her opponent at her mercy. More than either of those players would like I’m guessing. So, whether you are Joe Shmoe, Tom Brady or Venus Williams, for most of us ‘almost’ is a way of life.

Change the framework

I think the key is in how you deal with almost. Do you accept that being almost something is as good as you’ll ever be and become resigned to it, or do you decide that regardless of where you end up, you are going to try for more. You may not be as good as you would like but you may end up being better than you ever thought.

And at the very least you’ll be as good as you can be. And that’s certainly a lot more fun to think about.

I know the chances are not good that I’ll ever be a good squash player, but who the heck cares. I am always trying to improve my game, to get better and though it’s not always evident that those efforts are paying off I love playing the game. So what if I look rather inelegant or ungainly as I hurl myself around the court after the ball. I get a great workout. It’s a wonderful way to ease tension. And along the way I make some good mates – mostly I suspect because I lose a lot and so I’m good for their ego.

But there’s another way of thinking about the word.

When Shirley is on the stairmaster at the gym she has to play mind games with herself to stick with the full program at the level she wants to work out at, and not switch it down to a lower level. She tells herself she’ll only do ten minutes at that level. At the end of ten minutes she says to herself, ‘well, maybe a few more, but no more than five,’ and so she keeps going and keeps going till suddenly it’s all over. She’s drenched in sweat and panting like an asthmatic bulldog, but she did it.

Same in yoga. She does the dreaded “Wheel” once and then tells herself she doesn’t have to do the next one. But she does. Then she tells herself  she doesn’t have to do the third one, she can just go up halfway. But of course she always does it. No matter how hard she finds it, how tempting it is to ease up, she doesn’t.

She almost does, but she doesn’t. She almost takes it easy on the stairmaster, but she doesn’t. She almost eases up in yoga, but she doesn’t.

Suddenly the word is no longer a reflection of failure but a precursor to success. The big difference is how you react to what you are doing, and whether you accept your limits.

Back to that baseball player. If he hits 3 times out of ten, that’s a 300 batting percentage, a very good season. If he does that year after year throughout his career he’ll end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost certainly.

From Shirl:

But Babe, I almost didn’t meet you, but I did!  We did make the pieces fit and we did make sense of it… that’s a Home Run in my book!




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