Another week, another fallen sporting icon. Though in truth we have known for years that all was not well with Paul Gascoigne. I feel for Gascoigne and wish him a speedy recovery. But his case has me wondering again – is it the intensity of top flight sport that breaks people? Or the other way round? I suspect the latter – that’s to say it is edgy, uncomfortable, vulnerable people who tend to be attracted to the limelight to compensate for the difficult emotions they have to contend with. Sport is a theatre in which people with depressive tendencies can forget it all, focus on something simple, albeit demanding, and use the rush of success and achievement to compensate for any low self-esteem lurking from their upbringing.
And not just sport. How many tortured geniuses have come and gone in performing arts over the years? I suspect it’s the same in business and politics too: that it is people with a restless, unquiet mind who tend to keep bashing away at their thing until they break through. Sooner or later the past catches up with them. And then it’s a long long way down.
The hard thing then is to realise that even if you’ve scored 100 for England, or run a government ministry, even if you were CEO of a FTSE 100 company or danced Swan Lake to a full house at the Royal Ballet, you won’t get well again until you accept that you’re no longer special. In fact, you were never special, just another of the seven billion who enjoyed a brief moment of glory. Until you can teach yourself that you’re OK even without the adulation of the fans, that there is much to live for beyond the braying of the crowd; until you understand that you don’t need the affirmation of others to enhance your own feelings of self-worth, you will struggle to be comfortable in your own skin. Actually the breakthrough realisation is this: that self-esteem is a pointless exercise, a futile, counterproductive judgment of the self which is by definition subjective, and thus almost always skewed, wrong, harsh and often poisonous. The opposite of low self-esteem isn’t high self-esteem, it’s not estimating oneself at all. Stop judging. Observe instead.
I hope someone is telling Paul Gascoigne that.