Conversation #3

My mum played tennis competitively as a child and teen. When she'd leave the house, my grandad would call, "Don't come home until you win!" and she almost always did. 

When my sister and I started playing tennis, we'd spend the good days of the school holidays down at the courts with my friend Susan. You put some money in the honesty box and could have as long as you liked. The surface was in bad shape and you were running up and downhill towards the ball sometimes. Susan was a tough umpire and other kids from school would wander in and out and play at ball boys and girls, but we slogged in the heat for weeks.

My mum came down on the last day of the holidays one year to see how we were doing and play a few sets with us. She didn't care we were children; her competitiveness got the better of her and she slaughtered us. 

I'm not saying my life changed that day and I thought winning was the most important thing from that moment on, but it gives you an idea of the kind of woman who raised me. I was never athletic so there were no cross-country hopes pinned on me but my sporty sister says she remembers getting a hard time for finishing second in sports day races. 

I'm the kind of competitive that's unhealthy; I love to win but am average at almost everything. I became terrified to try things at school because I "knew" I had no natural aptitude for anything and would make a fool of myself. I didn't complete my Duke of Edinburgh award because I wouldn't do the "skill" section, where you take up a new hobby. The award wasn't asking you to be good at the hobby, just put a fucking paintbrush or squash racquet in your hand for three months. I didn't want to try something unless I knew I was going to be good at it, so it was a never-ending cycle.

It's been one of the hardest changes I've made to my personality, but the most rewarding. Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Big Magic" was a huge help to me and I dip in and out of it regularly when I start to slide back to my old ways. The only person I ever compete with is my potential self - I never think I'm doing as well as I should be, especially as the big 3-0 looms ahead, the year we're allegedly supposed to have our shit together. But I've learned, as obvious or corny as it sounds, that life is (unsurprisingly) about living it and being so paralysed by fear of failure that you never try anything, whether it's a chocolate chip cookie recipe or playing the clarinet, might be one of the biggest tragedies of all. 

Lauren Aitchison