I think I may have mentioned once, or twice or four hundred and eighty-seven times that my office has a ping pong table. There isn’t anything special about it; it’s just a standard, blue-green, sturdy table with a couple of rackets and a couple of balls. I don’t know why it amazes me so much.
Maybe because, when I was little, I used to go to NS’s house all the time and he had a table, and I was super jealous that he could play ping pong whenever he wanted. To my 9-year-old self, that was HUGE. You’re just walking around, avoiding chores, you go downstairs to the basement and – BOOM! – automatic fun awaits you and a friend.
To make the 9-year-old inside me very happy, I’ve been playing a lot of ping pong at work. (This will probably be me in 60 years.) And though I probably still can’t defeat NS, I have learned a lot.
1) No matter how much you say you love your job, sometimes you just need to get the bloody hell away from your computer.
There is a point in the day when your body begins to slump too much and your eyes start to droop and your heart rate goes waaay too low and you start to think about Eeyore a lot. You need to get away. Get away from the white screen and the notifications and the multimedia and the GChat and the YouTube that’s the only thing keeping you awake. Venture beyond the reach of your boss’ pings. Go towards the green and the movement and the real, live conversation. Feel your heart rate increase with each satisfying, tiny ball-on-table pop.
2) You need a paddle.
When we used to play ping pong after jama’at khana services, there would always be a few kids who would try to play with their hands because we were allergic to sharing our paddles back then. It never worked. Not only did they lose, they looked ridiculous (Yeah, I said it, people. You looked ridiculous.) You need a paddle. You need something to hold in your hand, something that can support you and defend you when there are things flying at you, trying to make you fail. You are only as strong as that thing in your hand. It doesn’t matter what kind of paddle it is, or what color it is or what you had to give up to get it, as long as it fits you and you trust it.
3) It’s not a competition, unless you’re only playing to win (and you’re not).
You’re playing for other reasons. Your opponent, or the people watching you, those surrounding you, might try to convince you that you’re competing, that you have someone to beat, that you’re not good enough unless you win. They are mistaken. You’re playing because the game, the process, the journey, brings you joy and gets you active and moving. You’re playing because, at some point during your game, you will reach a balance between what you were thinking about while working and what you think about while playing. If you keep your own goals and purpose in mind, you will understand that your success never depended on your competition after all; it only ever depended on you.
4) Back away from the table.
When the game gets intense, take a step back from the table. It’s all going too fast and you’re having to move too quickly for your liking and you know, you just know, that you’re going to drop it any second (even your paddle’s tired of all this activity!). The key is to take a step away from the whole game and play from a distance. With a little bit of space, the ball comes at you slower, you have more flexibility to get those tough shots and you’re more prepared for whatever’s going to happen next.
5) Attempt that awesome spin hit.
You know that move that you make with your paddle that makes you look like you’re dancing (badly)? Try it once in a while. If it doesn’t work, you’ll have made a mistake. If it does work, you’ll be the baller who took a risk and made it work. Who doesn’t want to be that guy?
6) At the end of the game, know that you progressed.
You probably got better. You probably tried at least one thing that you had never tried before. You probably got a little bit closer to contentment in the game and satisfaction in your own performance. You probably understood how your paddle works a little bit better. It’s not a loss unless you gave up.
Don’t play to win, folks. Play to succeed. Ping pong: it’s not just about balls.
(There will never be an ending to a blog post better than that last sentence right there, guys. You’re reading history right now.)