A Non-Enthusiast’s Guide to Team Bonding

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and give high-fives

Roller derby skaters celebrating after a game.
There are so. many. high-fives in roller derby. Photo by Anthony Floyd.

I once quit a job because of high-fives.

It was the summer after my first year of college and I was selling knives to my parents’ friends, as one does (you know the knives—I still have my demo set plus a few of the ones Mom bought from me). The “job” was strictly commission and I hated it because it meant talking to people in that sales-y, high-pressure way that still makes my heart shrivel up like a prune. I wasn’t making very much money because of my prune heart and I had a much better job at a video store, but the final straw? High fives. Every damn weekly (unpaid but mandatory) meeting was nothing but the slapping of upraised paws to congratulate good sales, good effort, good attitude. Or whatever. I had none of those, yet I still was asked to participate in the ritual.

“I don’t high-five,” I said. “I’m from Seattle.” And I quit. Nevermind that we were all in Seattle.

Fast-forward to the other night after my roller derby league’s scrimmage. After the final whistle, we often do this thing where each team lines up and skates past each other, high-fiving, sometimes with both hands. It can become a bit endless, as the lines double back on each other. (At bouts, this ritual is much better defined—everyone takes one lap around the track, slapping our stanky wristguards against fans’ outstretched hands).

One skater was off to the side because she’d stopped playing a bit early. “No one wants to high-five me,” she said, hand upraised. So I skated right over. “I do,” I said.

And then I heard myself. I wanted to high-five her? Who was I?

But this isn’t just a story about how Young Me was annoyingly too cool for school and I got over it as I aged. It’s about an actual surprise: Feeling enthusiastic.

Because the thing is, I never learned to fake it.

I remember touring a college as a prospective student and the requisitely perky tour guide asking me repeatedly “aren’t you excited?” or “isn’t it exciting?” and I was like, not particularly. Should I have been more enthusiastic? Maybe. I did end up going to that school.

Or there were the multiple times in meetings with my bosses at my last job—which I adored—when they’d say something like “we never know whether you’re excited about an idea.” Fair enough, I suppose. It can take me a minute to figure that out myself.

Or the job interview where the person hiring said he wasn’t sold on me because I seemed “low energy” on zoom.

Or—for fuck’s sake—the middle school friend’s mom who forever hated me and banned her kid from being my friend because I was so “languid and morose” on a trip with them to San Francisco. As a thirteen-year-old.

Even leading up to my first-ever roller derby bout last fall, when teammates asked if I was excited I told them no. Before the first one, I was more nervous than excited. And before all the subsequent ones… let’s just say the ambient stress levels in my life are high enough this year that it’s hard to feel too many emotions about a game.

Or so I think before playing said game. Chalk it up to endorphins, but by the time we’re done playing, I’ll be damned if high-fiving isn’t fun.

Don’t tell anyone. They’ll start expecting enthusiasm from me.

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