Sitting on my dresser there is a small, yellow woven box. I can’t remember when I got it, but I know I have had it for a long time. The contents of the box are a little frightening. Every rectangular slip of paper from every fortune cookie I’ve eaten — since I can remember, at least — resides in the yellow box. Fate resides in the yellow box. Superstition resides in my head.
Competitive soccer brings out the best and worst in you. Superstition rears its head in every aspect of the game. A girl I played with for years chewed gum before every game, without fail. If she performed poorly, she wasn’t chewing gum. If she scored a hat trick, her breath smelled like spearmint.
One girl was convinced she would play terribly if she put her left sock on before her right. Another conducted a specific routine right before kickoff: a shoulder twist, a left lunge and three jumps in the air. After, she slammed each cleat into the turf or wet grass, leaving a mark and hitting the ground hard. She was so damn good that I started doing it too.
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I started doing it, and realistically it didn’t change a thing about how I played. I was just convinced it was different, better, because of my superstitions. Right sock first, three jumps and the yellow box of fortunes. Peak confidence due to arbitrary performance indicators. The thing that mattered was that I believed in them – truly believed they would make a difference in their presence or their absence. They became essential.
Collecting fortunes also became essential. Perhaps a too-intense screening of the movie “Freaky Friday” is to blame for my paper-thin assortment of lucky numbers and prophecies for success and wealth. How symbolically relevant these revelations were in my life reached the point of obsession. I couldn’t leave the restaurant without my fortune. And if I didn’t eat the cookie before I read it, oh boy, I was in for a spell of irreversible bad luck and grief.
Emphasizing these tiny slips of paper, these three jumps in the air before kickoff, the boot stomp in the ground before the whistle blew – what purpose does it all truly serve? I believed in them devoutly, to a fault. Arguably, superstition is healthy – believing in signs and symbols and things we know might not change anything can help romanticize life. In high pressure situations, they take the edge off. They tell us it will be okay.
But a shift must occur before these superstitions gain a power higher than our own self-belief. We have something deeper than superstition that manifests in our attachment to them – we have a deep-rooted self confidence that we harness through them. Sometimes, we think that we can only harness confidence if we adhere to our superstitious habits.
Break the pattern once in a while. Break the superstition you’ve had since you were a kid. Leave the fortune behind at the restaurant – it will all be okay. The sun will rise, the flowers will grow, the goal can still be scored even if you don’t stomp your feet in the ground. Bring it back to the self-confidence that resides behind your rib cage, in that nervous feeling you get before an exam or a game or an interview or a presentation or even a first date. Right there, in that uncomfortable feeling, it’s you: you who did well on the previous exam, won the other games, got the jobs, nailed the presentations and had a good first date.
You’ve been with yourself through it all, behind the fortune and above the yellow box. Believe that this time.
Audrey Vonderahe (she/her) is a sophomore studying journalism and criminal justice. She ties her left shoe first every day. But she knows it doesn’t really matter.