The other night my friends and I were hanging out. I was talking about how my two-month summer holiday had began and how I was now playing badminton five nights a week.
“Wow, you must really suck,” my friend joked. “You play five nights a week and still somehow manage to be so bad.”
“Yeah, I do,” I said back. “And yet, I’m still better than you. So you suck even worse,”
Joking aside, he kinda hit the nail on the head. I do kinda suck, but there’s a reason.
I’m a middle-aged, overweight woman with major health problems who has never seriously played a sport in her life.
No matter what I do, or how I improve, I can’t escape those facts. And yet, I dedicate more and more time to playing badminton. I forsake my friends, I forsake going out and having fun, I’ve even canceled dates just to play badminton. I watch videos in my free time, practice swinging the racket in my house and work towards constant improvement.
I mean, it’s a bit embarrassing even. We can accept a sports obsession from someone who is an expert and has been playing a long time. Or we can accept it from a kid who has just started training (then we can dream about their future in the major leagues.) But an adult? Who isn’t an expert but is practicing and learning for the first time yet totally obsessed? It’s not something we see that often, and honestly, not something we accept, not even me. Sometimes when I’m talking about it I think “Who am I to be talking about this? Who am I to care so much? I haven’t earned it.”
It’s kinda too easy to make fun of someone like me. I get it. I don’t deserve to be so obsessed because I’m not good enough and I haven’t been playing very long.
Also, what’s my end game? I’m obviously never going to be an Olympic athlete or even on the nationals team. For that to happen I would need to be a decade younger and have started playing before I was a teen.
And yet, I’m getting more obsessed with the sport. And not just in my daily life, but deep in my subconscious as well. Just to give you a little example, a few weeks ago, when I got my root canal, I thought about badminton, and badminton plays to keep me calm and relaxed. Also, when I’m falling asleep and have a twitching muscle, my brain now imagines me hitting a birdie instead of falling off the sidewalk like I used to.
But why? As a writer I’ve been wanting to write a “Why I love badminton post.” People ask me all the time. And yet, I don’t really have a good answer. If I can find some meaning, then I can find some sense, and some justification for it all.
Sure, it’s good for your health, sure it’s a fun sport, sure it’s a good way to meet people. But I hate sports, hate sweating even more, and I have a lot of friends. I don’t care about those factors.
I’m the kind of person that tries to find meaning in everything I do. Good situations or bad I always want to learn a lesson, or have a realization about something. I don’t know if there is some divine purpose and meaning to everything (in fact, I suspect there isn’t) but I have found that finding meaning that matters to me, learning lessons in my own life, has made me a happier person.
So what’s the meaning of a 40-year-old woman suddenly seriously taking up a sport? I have been completely unable to find it.
Then the other day I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast with guest BJ Miller, a triple amputee who specializes in end of life care (hospice and palliative care). At one point, he said something interesting about meaning and finding meaning in your life. (I wrote this down on the bus as I was listening to it, so it’s not an exact quote.)
“Do something that makes you feel happy in your bones to be alive at that moment. On behalf of nothing else but that moment. We could all benefit from letting ourselves delight ourselves from things free of any meaning. It doesn’t have to be a means to an end.”
And I realized that’s it. That’s why I am dedicating more and more of my time to badminton. That’s why I walk away from a four hour training period, broken, exhausted, walking slightly with a limp yet absolutely soaring. It’s not a conscious thing. In fact, many times I’ll consciously be beating myself up for doing a bad job, or playing poorly yet I feel this happy little flutter of excitement in my stomach. Because in that moment I feel happy to be alive.
So I give up. I’m done with looking for meaning, and I’m done with feeling embarrassed about my obsession, and done with looking for justification. Why do I love badminton? Because I do. I feel happy in my bones. Period. End of story. End of meaning.