Growing up, I was very focused on things that interested me, often to the detriment of everything else. I would be admonished frequently by others – except, most of the time I hardly heard them and didn’t care when I did.
When you have ‘weird’ interests, even just in intensity of focus and time spent doing something compared to neurotypicals, that thing becomes anathema to those who mistrust it simply because of the strength of your commitment. They don’t understand it.
An interest in words and using the right ones becomes ‘thinking you’re too good for slang.’
An interest in reading is deemed a ‘no-good obsession that will lead to blindness.’
And an interest in figuring out what people actually mean when they speak words unreflective of true motivations becomes ‘overthinking.’
Overthinking is real. I confess to it. However, not all beyond what a typical person would commit is wasteful – just ask scientists and mathematicians. Ask inventors. Once the truth becomes clear, only then can I drop the subject, my brain satisfied, able to move on.
Neurotypicals are not so different in this area despite what many may think – all humans know that niggling feeling that just won’t go away when something is ‘off,’ or not quite right. And we all know the sense of ‘That’s exactly it!’ when presented with the explanation for that niggling feeling – the only explanation able to vanquish such feelings – one that fits, one that is true.
There is another area of truth people seem to have as little understanding of, or patience for, as they do people’s unusual interests. For the purpose of this article, let’s call it obsession with perfection.
Say you’re Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time (I won’t bother writing ‘arguably’), and you are intensely focused on mastering basketball. Basketball is a team sport, so you cannot master it alone, at least not all the way to winning high calibre team competitions. So you train hard and demand your team mates train equally hard (and you’re probably going to train harder still, perhaps when everyone else has gone home).
You, Michael Jordan, take talent and master it through discipline and determination, through being unflinching at pressure, through willingness to sacrifice.
Maybe your vision of what’s possible in this game you love so much is so big, so important, everything else inevitably takes lower priority – everything else being things like: accepting less than 100% from others, choosing immediate gratification over the delayed kind, letting things go instead of pushing and pushing until the least committed have no choice but to conform to the intense regimen set.
Maybe you think the goal – winning record breaking championships as a team – is the appropriate language to communicate to people why you demanded as much of your team as you did.
Maybe you feel words are redundant, the trophies speak loudly enough – and if not, the team camaraderie does.
Maybe years later, during the making of a Netflix documentary, you realise there are still those who would forego all else they could say about you for the chance to claim you were a tyrant.
What word would you use in response?
(This is what MJ says in episode 7 of “The Last Dance,” a documentary on Netflix.)
Michael Jordan speaks several important and insightful sentences before requesting a break, but it is that word that hits me.
And I think…
… About interests being so intensely focused they become obsessions with perfection.
… About being told you think you’re better than everyone else versus being told “you’re better than anyone else, ever.”
… About how out thinking well matched players was the difference between winning and losing, when the burden of being a leader attempted to keep gravity defying but fatigued Michael Jordan on the ground.
Leaders keep going even when it’s tough. Even after they contain so much they, to whom breaks were anathema, need to take a “break.”
And that is one reason why, despite (playing or watching) basketball being one of the things that took a detrimental hit when I was obsessed with reading during those years he was playing, I have immense respect for and appreciation of Michael Jordan.
I do not have his talent. I may not have all the same ‘oddness’ he was accused of (though definitely have plenty of my own). Still, I understand.
The truth? He did what needed to be done.