When I worried about not being competent enough for my internship this summer, I really did not expect the deficiency to be in bowling. I was thinking my employability hang-up would be more along the lines of accidentally coding the company website into ruin, setting fire to the office printer, or not knowing whether you can mail vertically-addressed envelopes—all scenarios that have woken me, sweating, in the middle of the night.
But no. Of all things, bowling was going to be my kiss of death.
I’d bowled before, of course, having reaped the benefits of many a middle school birthday party package deal. However, I’d been under the impression that I’d be able to get through the rest of my life without ever having to bowl properly and had tried to project an air of “I could bowl proficiently if you asked me to but I really hope you don’t.” This was not to be.
Having newly entered the corporate workforce, I’ve recently realized that bowling is an essential hard skill. Just in the past few months, every company social (not just where I work) to which I’ve been invited has been at a bowling alley, predominantly at Bowl & Barrel.
Latest in the pattern was Thursday’s mandatory Company Fun Night to celebrate a successful second quarter. The whole week, I’d been dreading revealing my bowling ineptitude, by which I mean I was uncomfortable enough to experience horror in daily one-minute intervals and not enough to actually go out and practice.
In context, normally I wouldn’t be so concerned about being the worst bowler in the group (or the alley). This situation, however, worried me because a) most of the team were essentially strangers, b) said strangers claimed to score in the 200s while I’d never broken 100, and c) my bowling “technique.”
- Resign self to throwing curved balls and just roll with (ha) the bad aim, going for the sides and having the ball rebound into the center.
- Use bumpers.
Anyway, I didn’t know what my coworkers would think of this method, but it couldn’t be anything good, so I resolved to re-learn how to bowl via the internet. The day of Fun Night, I read article after article on how to throw a straight ball, which boiled down to Step 1: Throw a straight ball.
I read how-to articles up until the moment my supervisor, in search of better parking, dropped me off and I promptly walked in the opposite direction of the bowling alley and he had to yell across the street for me to turn back. Unable to decide which option was less stupid, telling him I’d opened Google Maps for a one-minute walk or that I was trying to escape on foot, I shut my mouth and headed inside.
Although I was relentlessly mocked for being the only one to use bumpers, I actually started off all right. My first attempt at a straight throw went reasonably well.
Co-worker: Come on, you don’t need bumpers.
Me: Give it a couple minutes.
On my next throw, I somehow managed to fling the ball in such a manner that it actually bounced upon impact. The ball grazed the right and knocked down six pins.
Co-worker: … There’s the bumper.
Gradually, after a round of observing other players, my technique began to evolve. I was beginning to realize that the less energy I put into throwing the ball, the straighter it’d go. (I believe the principle’s akin to uninvolved parenting.) Screw momentum. I just stop, dropped, and rolled—AKA I walked up to the line, paused, and let go of the ball like I was carefully releasing a paper boat into a pond or reluctantly sending off my hypothetical teenage son to college. I set it free.
My score was decent relative to everyone else’s, fluctuating between third and fourth of six. Apparently, I’d taken my co-workers’ claims of bowling consistent 200s seriously because that’s how little I knew about bowling. And now, miraculously and probably also because everyone else was drunk, I was doing average. So, in a demonstration of true courage, I decided to take off the bumpers. I pressed the necessary buttons and turned to face the team.
Me: I’d like to thank everyone for attending my graduation. From bumpers to no bumpers.
I threw the ball, and it went wildly sideways… until, at the last second, it rebounded off the left bumper.
Apparently, I hadn’t saved my preferences. Sheepishly, I took them off, for real this time, and somehow rolled a strike.
In the end, I still didn’t break 100. I’d more or less gotten the same score without bumpers as I’d gotten with them. I’d let go of my pride (embarrassment from scores) to preserve my pride (embarrassment from bumpers.) I’d been left almost exactly as I was, so I guess the lessons here are, first, bowling is a hard skill in both senses of the term—hard as in measurable and hard as in difficult—and second, facing your fears essentially gains you nothing.
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