I've been trying to keep (and more importantly, feel) as busy as possible, but most of my days have been spent sitting behind a computer screen. Part of the reason I'm in this mess is because I absolutely refuse to get a desk job - I'd go crazy. As it was, all that inactivity was starting to give me a touch of the sads, and between the thoughts of low self-worth, I wondered if I was any better off now than in a cubicle, trying to get that report done for Mr Johnson by close-of-business. In those situations, it's kind of a snowball effect - lose morale, take less action, get less results, lose more morale. On Wednesday, feeling depressed and unable to sit still, I decided that maybe going for a walk would help me refresh myself.
It was sunnier than I'd realised outside. I went back in and removed my heavy jacket, which had only been necessary in the cold, tiled rooms of my house. I grabbed a pair of sunnies and my headphones and headed out for a bike track that passes within a few hundred meters of my house. I set a leisurely pace along the track, surrounded by trees, grass, a playground and a stream running alongside me. I was listening to a podcast, but I'm not sure how much of it I'd really heard. For some reason my thoughts had turned to footy umpiring.
Last year I achieved something I'd been wanting to do for a VERY long time, in umpiring junior games of aussie rules football. I'd taken to it very well - I'd gotten to umpire an Auskick game at half time of an AFL match, I'd won runner-up in their umpire-of-the-year award and they'd asked me to take up a leadership role when I came back this year. Both training and the actual games had become my two favourite times of the week. But during the off-season, I was offered a regular hosting spot for Quiz Meisters on Thursday nights. I'd have to make a choice between the two once the footy season restarted and after a long debate, considering all sorts of factors, I'd chosen Quiz Meisters. I'd gotten on the phone regularly with my coach, who said he'd try and work something out. I was more available than ever to umpire the actual games, it was just training I couldn't get to. But the coach is a busy man, and he's got a lot of other stuff to deal with. I never heard back from him with any results. I'd tried calling the club co-ordinator to get his opinion, I'd even tried asking fellow umpires to ask around and try and find a club which trained on other nights. All of them were well-meaning, but none of them ever got back to me. Training has now started all over the state and I'm being left behind.
On a more cheerful note, I was starting to feel happier and fresher after just ten minutes of walking. The thought suddenly struck me that there were other people I could call. I took out my phone, Googled "SANFL umpiring" and within seconds (a new record - for some reason finding phone numbers in that organisation is hard), I had the number for Leigh, the man who organises all umpiring in South Australia. I gave him a call without hesitating.
'Hello, Leigh speaking?'
'Hi, my name's Michael. I was just wondering if there are any panels that train on Tuesday or Wednesday nights.' I surprised myself immediately with how confident I sounded. I hadn't felt that way in a few days.
'Let me just look that up, where do you live Michael?'
'Klemzig,' and by way of explanation, I went on. 'I actually umpired for the North-East Metro panel last year, but I have to work on Thursdays this year so that's no longer an option.'
'Okay, let me just take down your number and I'll do a quick search and call you back.'
Unlike all the other people who'd said that to me so far, I fully believed him. Sure enough, less than five minutes later, he did.
'Hi it's Leigh again. So I've done a quick search, and it looks like the only panel that trains on Wednesdays is the Glenelg/West Adelaide/Eagles panel. That's up in Somerton Park though, so it's a fair drive...'
'Look, I don't mind that at all. I'm just keen to get back into it.'
'That's fair enough, so I'll pass your phone number and email address off to James, who's the coach of the club and he'll be in touch with you shortly.'
'That's alright, have a nice day.'
I'd been worrying about this umpiring problem all Summer and now it looked like it had been fixed in less than ten minutes. I continued my walk, exploring new paths and playgrounds I came across with child-like excitement. Then very shortly after, I got another call.
'Hi Michael, this is James from the West Adelaide umpiring panel, how are you?'
'I'm good thanks mate!' I replied chirpily.
'That's good, I'm just calling because Leigh gave me your details. You'd like to join our panel?'
'It says here you live in Klemzig, that's an awfully long way away. I don't think we have any games that are close to you.'
'That's not a problem, I travel very long distances for work, I'm used to it.'
That was true. I've had to travel to the very outskirts of the city and deep into the Adelaide Hills to work those food sampling shifts. I drive 37km to Mt Barker for my quiz and I even once had to drive to Nuriootpa for a shift. Look it up.
He asked me a few more questions and then invited me to come to training that night. I already had a commitment for that night and while I considered pulling out of it, I didn't think that would be good practice. So we booked it in for next week. And with that it was officially done. Not only will I have a reason to get up and be intensely active twice a week, I'll also get a little bit of income from it. Sure it's not much, but it's a quarter of what I'm currently making in the rest of the week and it's for only an hour's work. If that's not enough, I came home to an email from my acting agents. They were looking for people who could take up regular work. What was the job? Commentating for junior football games.
What an amazing turn of events. It was reliable weekly work, 7-8 hours every Sunday at $25/hour. According to the brief, it required someone with a strong knowledge of AFL and a "performing flair" to make the junior footballers in their league "feel like rock stars". It wasn't quite like the game-day hosting job that I tried to get at The Bite, but it was similar enough to make it feel like an amazing coincidence. To get the job, we had to find an AFL video on YouTube and make a recording of ourselves commentating over it.
The email said that applications had to be in by the end of the weekend so that they could hand them in on Monday. Full of that confidence and drive that I'd thought I lost, I sent an email back, saying "Keep the spot warm for me - this one's mine."
I went into the radio station on Thursday so that I could use their super-expensive microphones. I figured that would already give me an advantage over others who were just using their phones. I found a three-minute clip which was the end of a very exciting game from two weeks ago.
It took me quite a few goes to get it how I wanted it, I kept running out of stuff to say while they were showing the replays of that first goal. But eventually I got it, and when I showed it to the admin girl to see what she thought, she was very impressed. I saved it and sent it in an email to my agents along with a link to the video and a few examples of previous experience (junior umpiring, kids theater and other performance experience). That's where I was expecting the story to end until next week. But the very next morning as I was making breakfast, my agent Nick called.
'Hi Michael, the client was very impressed with your audition and would like to contact you. Do you mind if I pass on your details?'
'Go for it!' I replied excitedly. 'That was quick!'
'He was very impressed,' Nick repeated with a smirk.
The client (John) and I organised to get in contact over Skype, so he could explain the business. It's called Watch Our Game and it started in Melbourne just a year ago. Football clubs invite them to their games, where they film them and provide a commentary. Then parents can buy a copy of the video as a keepsake or coaches can buy one as a tool for analysing games. Two dollars from every sale gets donated back to the club, so there's a financial incentive for them to have us along. Since they're only just starting to expand out of Melbourne, the work initially won't be every week. But since I'm their first commentator for South Australia, it means I'll be in charge of the whole operation here. Very exciting and nerve-wracking.
All this happened simply because I went for a walk. This is hard evidence of what people have been saying for a long time - that active people are happy people. Next time you're low on confidence, getting restless or just have a touch of the sads, get out of the house. Go for a walk, ride a bike, go to a public basketball court and shoot some hoops with a friend. It worked wonders for me.