I was walking back from yoga not long ago by a busy bus stop outside a pretty big apartment complex in my neighborhood when I saw a dude “dribbling” a soccer ball by himself. I put dribbling in quotes not because it’s the wrong word, but because I’m not a soccer expert at all. So while I think he was dribbling, there might be some soccer term that’s more accurate for just playing around with the ball.
Or maybe it’s just that – playing around with the ball?
Ah, it doesn’t matter. I digress.
I sort of looked over at him playing and, I guess in doing so, I accidentally invited an interaction with him.
Now, you’ve got to understand. I actually really like talking to and connecting with people. I’ve done it for years and find that connecting with humans is part of what we were put on this earth to do. Much of my goal in comedy and entertainment is for all of us to know and recognize our common shared humanity rather than constantly point out our differences.
Now, please also understand I live in a big city and have lived in big cities for over a decade. I am accustomed now-a-days to looking down or walking defensively. I still smile. I am still friendly and welcoming. But, out of survival instinct, I tend to prefer to simply walk by people unnoticed than smile constantly and risk someone taking it the wrong way and deciding I’m their new best friend and/or someone they’re going to follow home and/or someone they need to objectify and/or ask out immediately.
I like to call it soft eyes. I keep soft eyes and a soft smile but I hardened exterior for my own safety. Once everyone in the world has control over their own body parts and their own ideas of what they deserve from a stranger, we can all go back to connecting constantly. Until then, soft eyes, hardened exterior for me.
In looking up for this moment, this man must have caught glimpse of my soft eyes (and probably a smile from yoga…god I love it) and decided to pounce. Often, this is the last thing I want. In this case, it was pretty fun.
I saw him smile and say to me “One touch.” I smiled back and said “Nooooo” but, like, playfully with a big smile. It was too late anyway, he already had my friendly number and had lightly kicked his soccer ball my way. I kicked it back and he kicked it back to me. I said “I’m no good at this” and he said, “Nonsense, you’re great!” I kept watching and he didn’t kick it back to me but instead said simply “Thank you for playing!”
I walked away smiling (grateful that dude didn’t objectify, hit on me, ask me out, yell at me for existing, or follow me home…all of which have happened and are part of the reason I keep my eyes glued to the road when walking alone).
That random soccer player gave me three gifts without even knowing it.
First of all, he gave me the gift of whimsy. What’s the point in kicking the ball to stranger? There is none and I love it for that.
Secondly, he gave me the gift of connection. This is one of my favorite things in the world (see above) and by simply playing along for a moment, I got to connect with another human that I’ve never met before or since and be reminded that our shared human experience has way more in common with random strangers than different.
But finally, he gave me a gift of some self awareness. This one is way less obvious than the others, but it was the first thing on my mind and the only thing I could think about. Really, it’s what makes this story particularly interesting to me. Without it, this is just another story of a goofy stranger interaction.
When he wanted to kick the ball to me, I immediately lost my confidence. I immediately went into Adorable Dope mode, a role I’ve grown comfortable with over the years who I’ve recently started banishing from my repertoire. I said “I’m no good at this,” to a random stranger who just wanted me to kick a ball. I’ve never been excellent at soccer (it was too hard when I was younger, I didn’t like all the running so I didn’t keep up at it). So my self consciousness rears its head high when I don’t have some basic skills in something.
But how silly is that? We weren’t playing a soccer match. We weren’t picking teams. He wasn’t asking me to bend it like Beckham. He just wanted me to kick a ball in his general direction. A toddler could do it. They do it all the time.
So why, then, did Adorable Dope pop up? Why was I immediately hard on myself and less interested in playing with this guy? This is not me bashing myself further for it, it’s just being curious about it.
I was out of my comfort zone. I was interacting with someone and I, as we naturally do, wanted to please him and for him to like me. I wanted to be worthy of this moment – and that’s an absolutely crazy thing because we are all born worthy and don’t need to ever do anything to prove our worthiness. But we’re taught, groomed, and encouraged to prove our worth to others by being the best selves always. We can’t just be, we have to be awesome (#liveyourbestlife amiright?).
In that moment, out of my comfort zone, interacting with a stranger, I let Adorable Dope take over. It should be said that Adorable Dope doesn’t have a lot of confidence. She proves her worth by being, well, adorable. She’s got a great (heavily self-deprecating) sense of humor and there’s almost nothing you can say to her that she won’t have a playful or quippy way of undercutting herself.
Example: A lady on an airplane recently said to me “You have a beautiful smile.” I said thank you, then Adorable Dope took the wheel after a moment and said, “I’ve paid enough for it, I’d sure hope so.” I couldn’t let it just be a compliment. I wasn’t worthy of having a good smile without the help of dentists. I had to undercut it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love jokes. And I enjoy not taking myself all that seriously. But over the years, I’ve found that if I insult me before you insult me, I feel more powerful when really I’m covering up my own vulnerability. I won’t let myself go wholeheartedly into something because what if I’m not good enough at it? What if I care and I fail? And what if I just play a little soccer with that dude and enjoy it without insisting I shouldn’t because I can’t kick a ball?
The point is, that man gave me the gift of understanding I still have work to do on myself. I’ve been doing a lot of work over the years (especially lately). And I’m ok with being my own life-long project. But confidence and worthiness are foundational changes. They’re major shifts that, even when I think I’ve rebuilt my own personality house to my liking, a little quake like this interaction reminds me that it’s not quite as sturdy as I thought.
Man, I shouldn’t have used the quake metaphor. I live in LA and earthquakes are terrifying.
CAN WE ALL PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT EARTHQUAKES NOW?
Needless to say, next time a guy kicks a random soccer ball at me, I’ll hopefully be a little more willing to just play along, risk being bad at it and looking like a fool, and simply enjoy myself.
Unless he kicks it aggressively and at my face or something like that. Then I will throw down my yoga mat and warrior three the crap out of him (that means wishing him love and peace while working on my own balance…I think, I don’t know I just made it up right now).