A recent conversation with a friend broached the subject of how a mutual friend’s knowledge of sports, food, politics- everything, really- was intimidating.
We all know this person. The sponges. We all desire (or have desired) to be this person.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a sports fan. Over time, this slowly evolved into me being the “sports guy” of my group of friends. If, at a high school football game someone I was with had a question about the rules or situation, I was the “go-to” person for an explanation.
Unknowingly, I started to put tremendous pressure on myself to know everything. The shame of saying that I simply didn’t know an answer was too much to handle for my fragile teenage ego.
I soon became addicted in trying to absorb every little stat and piece of trivia I could find. My RSS feed was averaging more than 500 new posts a day, and I was determined to read them all. Essentially, I had sports FOMO.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, sports- something I had loved since kindergarten- became a chore. I was so dutiful in trying to give these blogs my undivided attention that I refused to look at posts if I was in a state of mind incapable of doing anything more than just skimming the headlines.
Through this, I hoarded a mass of (relatively) useless information that left me incapable of having a casual conversation about sports with virtually anyone. Every chat turned into a competition in my head to try and “outwit” the other person with a much more poignant fact or observation (which really weren’t observations at all, just lines from blogs I had committed to short-term memory as “ammo”). I needed to make my role, my archetype, clear to all-comers.
The low point of this was when my brother- the person that had nurtured my love for sports to begin with and taught me much of what I know- told me the most hurtful thing someone striving to having all the answers could hear:
“You seriously have no clue what you are talking about. Some people just have “it” to talk sports- you clearly don’t. I am embarrassed, I thought Dad and I would have taught you better.”
To be fair, in this argument I was attempting to cite advanced sabermetrics way over my head, again, an attempt to hold dominion over the discussion and prove myself to possess superior knowledge. Nevertheless, it was crushing. I even remember trying to confide in friends about this, but they didn’t and couldn’t understand. It was just sports, after all.
In retrospect, all I really wanted was to just connect with people. I looked to sports to be my facilitator in this arena, and with the idea put in my head that I didn’t have it, I was lost.
But I didn’t know what else to do. So I did the only thing I knew how- I tried even harder to learn it all.
Fast forward- this pressure I put on myself became too much for me to continue. And frankly, I became too busy to even try and read all of the sites I was attempting to on a daily basis.
In my earliest foray into minimalism (although I had no knowledge of this term or lifestyle at the time), I began to prune my Google Reader subscriptions. And it felt really, really good. There were still tinges of embarrassment and guilt when I didn’t have an answer or had no brilliant point to make, but ultimately this allowed me to focus on the few sports and teams that I genuinely cared about.
I soon realized I didn’t even want to know most of the information I was trying to devour daily. I was learning for someone other than me.
Now I work in a professional sports office, and am surrounded by some absolutely brilliant people that have steel traps for names, events, and numbers. And it has been one of the most refreshing realizations of my life accepting that I am not one of them.
The important things we remember. It is said we can recall only a small percentage of what we read, which initially makes reading sound like an incredibly inefficient waste of time. However, that fraction we do remember becomes a part of us as more than just a fact to recite, but as an idea to share.
Typically, these small anecdotes take us further and bring in more enjoyment than being an encyclopedia of assorted trivia ever would.
I became a much more enjoyable person to talk with about sports (or anything) when I became honest with myself and others about what I did and didn’t know.
Strangely, admitting when I don’t know something often feels better than knowing the damn thing in the first place.