Have you ever wondered what the cost of true confidence is? I’ll tell you: it’s hitting a ping pong ball with a paddle ten times in a row.
It’s the truth. How do I know? I’ve seen it. At the time, I wasn’t aware how a flimsy ping-pong set could reset a long-held belief, so I scoffed when my sister announced that we should be expecting an Amazon package on our doorstep the following weekend.
“Why?” I demanded. “Why throw away money on such a frivolous thing?”
I said nothing of the fact that I’d spent the last four years working at my side gig in a professional ping pong lounge without perfecting the art of swerving that tiny ball. I dismissed the inkling that the presence of the paddle and ball would force me to confront the underlying horror: that I couldn’t hit a ball, any ball, to save my life. Give me a ballpoint pen and a sheet of paper any day, I’ll out-write them all. But athletics? Not a chance.
Yet the day arrived: the chirp of the doorbell indicated that the package was here. I dashed downstairs and ripped apart the cardboard box, peeling back plastic layers to reveal the cheap wooden paddles covered in red and blue rubber, complete with four balls.
There was no one around. I put my ego aside, picked up a red paddle and began bouncing the pong ball up and down. As expected, I was terrib–wait a minute.
The ball remained in the air.
This didn’t align with the narrative I had built in my head. I was supposed to have poor hand-eye coordination. It was a mantra I’d perfected for years after several attempts at softball teams, volleyball games, completely barring the fact that I’d neglected to put in the actual work and expected success off the bat (no pun intended.) But there it went — one, two, three, ten. Twenty. Thirty-five. Fifty.
This minute success inspired a mission. I found an unprecedented new joy in life, a welcome break in the monotony of quarantine, where the days seemed to melt one into the next. I woke up each morning and grabbed a paddle. To clarify, I was now using my paddle — the customized paddle with my name emblazoned across it courtesy of the lounge, a gift from a holiday party years ago. I’d never touched it before now.
I set goals — 100 hits in a row––and got there in days. I wanted more – but what? What was it about this simple game that was driving me in a frenzy?
The answer came to me one afternoon in the form of a stout, five-foot-one figure: my mother. She entered the study room where I sat hunched over my laptop working day in and day out, presumably to say hello. I looked at her, and something compelled me to grab her wrist and force her to the center of the room, locking the door behind me in one swift move.
I handed her the paddle and ball. I wanted Mom to experience that taste of success that hinted of something more.
She protested, and I saw myself in her. The self I was just days ago, that is: the one who was filled with doubt that was born of my own creation and rooted in absolutely nothing. Lack of exposure + zero practice is the best formula for baseless insecurities; remember that.
I tossed the ball into the air. She attempted to hit it, and missed.
“Try again,” I told her.
This time, she tossed the ball into the air and managed to hit it one time before it rolled away from her.
“Again,” I replied sternly.
One hit. Drop. Two hits. Miss. One hit. Miss.
I could see her inwardly cringe at every miss, but pushed further. “You can do it.”
I wanted ten hits in a row before I’d let her leave the room. Once a SMART goal was set and she knew what she was aiming for, it was go time.
One hit. Miss. One, two, three hits — miss. One, two, three, four, five.
One, two, three, four, five. Miss.
Five, six, miss.
Five, six, seven, miss.
After a handful of near-hits and some cheerleading on my end, she got to ten. I roared with pleasure, a wildly enthusiastic sound that ripped out of my throat.
It wasn’t the tenth hit that did it. It was the slow smile that spread across Mom’s face when she realized that she could do it. Not that she could hit a ball ten times in a row — but that she could surpass a self-imposed limitation in her head, just like I did days before. We both found confidence once we broke past our own boundaries.
Anyone can do it — because confidence is built after our achievements. It’s a testament that we can do it, and the result allows us to continue to keep doing it.