I mean that in a good way. Mostly.
I was feeding the sheep, as you do, and watching all the eager noses pushing through the fence… me, me, ME… and I had one of those random, sideways thoughts: when I applied to be a PhD student, why did they pick me? The question never occurred to me at the time, but now it did – with so many able applicants chasing the available places, why did they pick me?
I’m sure the question harks back to that stereotypical childhood experience – being picked last to be on the team. I wasn’t that kid, because there were three of us, which makes for an interesting social dynamic. Out of the three, who gets picked first?
With the benefit of many years distance, my next thought was the balanced inequity – the guys picking the team had no choice, because everyone had to be on a team, so they had to pick out the least worst…
But really, how did I feel at the time? Was I blighted by being in the last three? Did I care whether or not I was the worst of the worst? I don’t really recall, other than not wanting to be picked at all – the unavailable option.
On the threshold of moving up to the junior school I was excited, because they played the magical and enticing football. And then, the day came, when I experienced football… seriously? Is that it? I doubt that I was familiar with the expression WTF at the time, but I think that sums up my feeling. Me and sports did not mix. Oil and water, with someone tossing matches at the stuff floating on top.
The unexpected, instinctive antipathy created a negative feedback loop – I didn’t want to play, I was no good because I didn’t want to be, and the unlucky captain who had to pick me would put me somewhere well away from anything interesting to minimise the damage. And then roll on a few years: rugby, ditto; hocky ditto; field athletics was the lesser evil when faced with the prospect of cricket…
In spite of that, I came out unscathed, didn’t I… except… I left school with A-levels and an offer of a place from five universities. I got a degree and was offered a place to study for a doctorate. I got that, and then a job, and a promotion, and another job, and… A solid history of the ‘team leader’ picking me, of ‘team leaders’ squabbling over who got me on their team. Forget why me, say hello to make me a better offer…
A solid history of success, of being picked first… and then seeing all those eager sheep noses and suddenly wondering why me? Perhaps not so unscathed after all.