Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not Ready for the NBA

Watching a college basketball game the other night. One of the players, an extremely talented “big man” with a promising future in the game, had gotten angry and frustrated when things didn’t go the way he thought they should. He talked back to the ref, threw his headband when the coach sat him down and repeatedly contorted his face in anger. And, because he couldn’t calm himself down, he missed shots he should have made.

“He’s not ready for the NBA,” the announcer said. “He shows too much emotion, lets the game get to him.”

“Nope, not ready,” the other announcer agreed. “He’s got to learn to control those emotions.”

It was a theme they came back to over and over.

I couldn’t make a layup on a regulation goal if my life depended on it, but I can relate to the “big man.” I’ve struggled all my life to keep my emotions in check, to hide behind a cool façade when I’m upset or angry.

I like to blame it on my Irish genes, but really I don’t know where it comes from.

“You have no poker face,” a former boss told me.

Another was more pointed: “You have an edge,” she said. Never mind that she agreed the person I’d stood up to had completely deserved it.

Neither was being unkind, or really that critical. They were just giving me well-meaning advice.

I have learned to control the worst of it over the years. I’m no college freshman, and I’ve learned some degree of self-preservation.

But still I often show my hand long before I get a chance to play it.

But what I’ve never figured out is how to care about something without SHOWING you care. The college player can channel his emotions into better basketball, and walk away the clear winner because of it. It doesn’t seem that easy in the “real world.”

This week has been a challenge. Some things have not gone my way; some people with what I call “petty power” have used that power to make themselves feel bigger – and I’ve wound up feeling small.

The trick, I know, is to not let it get to me, to “kill them with kindness” as some of my friends advised.

Doesn’t letting it bother me just grant them the power they’re looking for? And if I can deflect it, brush it off, don’t I get my power back?

Still, I struggle.

I called my husband after one of these episodes. I was angry and needed his calm reason to help me defuse it. “I’m not ready for the NBA,” I said without preface when he answered the phone.

He laughed. I didn’t have to explain; he knew EXACTLY what I meant. I didn’t know whether to be chagrined that he knows me that well, or grateful that he loves me anyway.

I decided on both.

I might never make the big leagues of emotion control, but the more I realize that the way to win is through subtlety and strategy, the better I’ll be.

Of course if I could just get a lucrative endorsement deal, then all bets would be off!

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