Archives for posts with tag: self-conciousness

The last time I recall swinging a tennis racket was during the second Clinton administration. The Kid was about 7 years old, and I took her out a few times to play. The last time I played seriously (if you can call my play “serious”) I was single, and in my early 30’s.

For a while, I played fairly often. Throughout high school, I played regularly with a couple of friends. In my early adult life, I had a couple of friends I played with on weekends and in the morning before work.

My court time was limited by my extreme self-conciousness: I did not want to play with anyone I did not know. I was just easing out from under this self-imposed limitation, expanding my play into a small group of mixed double players (mostly coworkers), when Dr. T and I got together. An avid player himself, he encouraged me to try his league. I demurred.

The last time I played tennis was not intentionally the last time I played tennis. I don’t remember it at all.

From time to time, I considered playing, but nothing ever came of it. Although I have embraced other forms of exercise, tennis never happened. At the peak of my physical condition, roughly ten years ago, I was ready to try tennis again. We had joined a small fitness club, very close to home. I was taking classes 5 days a week: yoga (Wednesdays and Saturdays), aerobics (Mondays and Wednesdays) , strength training (Tuesdays and Thursdays- at 6:00 a.m!), and a ballet/Pilates based class ( Sundays.)

The ballet did me in before I could get back to the game.  Something bad happened to my right knee in the course of leaping across the room at the end of a class. I hadn’t wanted to leap; I was there for the stretching. It wasn’t the leaping of course, but the landing that did me in. By the time I made the five minute drive home, I could barely make it upstairs to bed. I couldn’t go to work the next day. Nothing was ever the same.

I got a certain, small satisfaction in telling people that “I blew my knee out in ballet,” but my routine was forever disrupted, and I abandoned my fantasies about flying around a tennis court.

By the time I was able to resume my classes at the gym, they were being cut due to competition from a newer, fancier fitness center in town. Things changed, time passed, and tennis was forgotten.  I defaulted to the elliptical machine and  bouts of yoga.

My exercise routine since returning to Durham has consisted of walking, some home-based yoga and hand weights. (Emphasis on “some.”)

Dr. T has continued to play tennis, and encouraging me to play too. I’ve continued to think that maybe I should try again. The knee has recovered, after all. Early this year, I spotted a notice for “pre-tennis conditioning.” I decided to give it a go.

For the last three Mondays, I’ve been sprinting, lifting weights, and engaging in Mountain Climbers and Fast Feet, among other depredations. There I was, in a group of actual tennis players who all knew each other, some of them younger, and all of them more fit than I.

And it was fun, and they were friendly.

Last Monday, I stayed to play “mini tennis” (Did you know that was a Thing? I didn’t) with a fellow conditioning classmate.  This was well beyond my comfort zone. I had just met her. Her nickname on the court is “Evil Judy” due to her deadly drop shot. She’s been sidelined for months because of shoulder surgery; I’ve been sidelined for decades because of inertia. Other members of our class were playing real, live tennis on either side of us.

I surprised myself. My stroke was stronger, my feet were slower than I expected, but it felt familiar and comfortable. I want to do it again. And again. With strangers, even.

I have been at my little job for slightly more than a year and a half now. After a month or two of wondering if I was in the right place, I’m comfortable and happy there. The job was probably just demanding enough to keep me from being swallowed by the bad things that were happening in my life when I took it. In retrospect, it is probably just as well I wasn’t trying to establish myself in a full-time, “serious” position while I was dealing with the death of my mother, my dog, and various family health issues. I suspect that my current restlessness is a good sign: my life is calm and stable enough to seriously pursue something bigger.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that I am sure will help me going forward:

I can succeed at something new:  I’ve mastered the infernal computer/register/inventory system, and learned to navigate all four channels of our business. I am producing results comparable to those of two senior colleagues, both of whom have design degrees and have run their own design businesses.

I am not motivated by money: I earn a fraction (a very small fraction) of what I used to. I would make the same amount of money just by showing up, but every day, I put forth my best effort, and continue to challenge myself. The proof of this is that despite having been momentarily stunned and disgusted by my insignificant first “raise” I am still  working hard.

I can simultaneously accept my reality and change it: I had hoped that I might be able to eventually meet all of my needs in this  job. My first review and wage increase showed me that I couldn’t.  It’s just not that kind of job, and I might have known it, had I asked the right questions when I interviewed.  After some reflection, I realized that I enjoyed the job too much to quit, and that I could alleviate my resentment  by simply reducing my availability to four days a week from seven.  Saving Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for myself gave me a sense of control and  needed structure in my schedule.

I am most successful when I forget myself: Fully focusing on my customers and meeting their needs allows no room for self-consciousness and insecurity, and produces excellent results.

I am not my job title, or my paycheck: I knew that, but it’s good to remember.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (

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