It occurred to me recently that in your 20s, you are terrified that everything will fall apart and you’ll never have a stable life, whereas in your 30s you are terrified that nothing will fall apart and you’ll be stuck in your stable life forever.
When I was in my 20s, that terror manifested as a desire to only do Really Important Things in my free time. Since, let’s be honest, there aren’t that many Really Important Things available for a 20-something yuppie-in-training to do, I can’t exactly recall how I spent those after-work hours. But I can definitely say what I didn’t do. I didn’t do silly things.
I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t go out to dinner for fun. I wouldn’t even read Harry Potter. I wanted to use my brain, strengthen my soul, better humanity. I woke up every morning, heart pounding, eager to get started on the activities that would make life worth living.
Fast forward a few years and my quest for extracurricular meaning had mostly given way to a quest for my next glass of wine. (And if you say you can’t empathize with that, you’re either lying, or should stop reading this blog post and go focus on your Peace Corps responsibilities.) Having learned over time that my flurry of youthful activity was unnecessary for survival, I didn’t feel relieved. I woke up every morning with a pit in my stomach, feeling like there were no activities that would make life worth living, but knowing I had to get through the day anyway.
The panic that once had incited me to do things like go running, see independent films and attend art openings now just led to spiraling, obsessing and forgetting. In short, even my anxiety was boring. The only flicker of urgency I ever felt was when I started to wonder if it was possible to spontaneously die of apathy (FYI, I don’t think it is, or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog post right now.)
Things were approaching Peak Blah when one day, someone asked me if I wanted to be in the office Fantasy Football league. I thought about my lifelong commitment not to engage in silliness. Then I took a quick mental inventory of my current life and knew what my answer had to be. “Fuck yeah, I’m in.”
I knew I’d made the right choice when I g-chatted my good friend Jay in Philly to tell him the news…and had a complete and total panic attack resulting in real psychological paralysis.
Me: The draft is Monday, I need all your help
Me: my mind has literally gone completely blank. i cant name one NFL player
Jay: running backs matter the most
Jay: whatever platform you’re doing it on will have rankings
they’re probably fine and good, but be careful for injuries
Jay: for instance, Peyton Manning has nerve damage to his fingers
Me: I am having such bad anxiety i can’t remember of the suspended patriots guy. i’m pretty sure i have written several blog posts about him.
Jay: tom brady. but don’t worry! the numbers in the platform will be good
Me: I kept thinking Troy Aikman
Jay: use Big Data to your advantage
Me: DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG HE”S BEEN RETIRED? it’s panic.
Jay: Many decades
Me: it’s dementia
like when you think you’re a little girl again.
when you have alzheimer’s
I was simultaneously crippled by fear of failure and elated to discover that I actually cared. For the first time in a long time, I was genuinely wondering if I was going to be good enough to survive.
And of course, I had to figure out a plan for how I was going to do that. I texted my cousin, who has been playing Fantasy Football for years. Because he has toddlers (aka, actual priorities) he didn’t text back for days. I called my dad, who’s a big sports fan but doesn’t do fantasy teams. I recalled being about 7 and walking with him in the parking lot on my way to my first NY Giants game. Beginning with, “there’s a 1st down,” he explained to me the rules of the football, assuring me that if paid attention, I’d catch on. I expected him to be supportive of my new endeavor.
Instead he said, “You’re going to need a mentor, someone who can help you the whole time.”
“Don’t you think if I just pay attention, I’ll catch on?” I asked hopefully.
He was not convinced. “I just know it’s very complicated and there’s a lot to know.”
“Well, I have Jay to talk to.”
“I think you need someone on your own coast.”
The Friday night before the draft, I was out with some friends, most of whom had opinions.
“Just give Joe your login and let him do the draft for you,” insisted my friend Lucy.
“It seems like Rachel really wants to be independent and figure out how to do this herself,” Joe countered. Just I was thinking, “Exactly! I can’t wait to be independent!” Lucy jumped back in.
“Listen, do you want to do it yourself, or do you want to win? You have two choices: Delegate, Lose. Delegate, Lose. Delegate, Lose.”
I spent the days up until the draft squelching the butterflies in my stomach, doing research and debating my options. I dug into the endless world of strategies and predictions. On the day of the draft, I printed out rankings, highlighted top choices in neon green and hurried over to our intern to discuss next steps.
“I think you may be overthinking this,” he offered.
“I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this before.” He gestured at me.
“As in…a highlighter?” (You never know with 22-year olds these days.) I held out my green Sharpie. He just looked back at his computer screen.
I started to think that “delegate or lose” were really my only two choices. But after reading an article that said for my league’s scoring, I could take a calculated risk and pick wide receivers first, I felt like I knew things. I decided to ignore the 101-level advice of Jay and my cousin who finally texted back (which was “get running backs”) and go forth into the draft, logged in as myself.
Ultimately, I accepted quite a bit of consultation from Joe, who was generously on deck in case I decided to go the “delegate” path. Even so, after the draft was over, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. The next morning when I woke up in a kind of glowy, blissful mood that I haven’t experienced in about four years, I realized why.
Thanks to Fantasy Football, I was finally panicking about something I could actually take action on. And I was going to get enjoy that panic/action relationship up to three times a week for the next three months.
I was in a better mood because sometimes, it’s not so much about how you do or what you do, but that you just do something. While Fantasy Football might not be a Really Important Thing as defined by my younger self, it reminded me how to have energy again, or put bluntly, how to give a shit.
That said, the fact that I have a kind of kick ass team might also have something to do with it.