“Pulling a Michael Chang” – Or, How Self-deprecation Might Hurt Your Credibility & Writing

in #sports3 years ago (edited)

The year is 1989. The place – The French Open. Michael Chang vs. Ivan Lendl in one of the most memorable matches in history. The two opponents faced off on the red orange clay court: a tableau of David and Goliath.

Chang, completely physically exhausted, strategically serves underhanded, moonshots and takes banana breaks and begins a mental game with Lendl, one which Lendl will eventually lose after the grueling three and a half hour match.


Source: Vimeo

I remember watching this match on TV. I was an avid tennis player at the time and followed the sport closely. My idol was Steffi Graf who I aspired to emulate. After Chang won the French Open I watched the interview and absorbed his words.

At the time I still remember just being mortified when he said something to the effect of how he was injured the whole time and couldn’t believe he had won.

I felt extremely embarrassed by what I perceived as very poor sportsmanship.

His words felt like he was saying:

“I was hurt and still beat the crap out of you. I’m just that great.”

And I’ve thought that this whole time almost 30 years later, until today. I had it in my mind when thinking about this article about credibility in writing. Of course, I wanted to research it so that I had the right dates, place, and details.

Michael Chang Really Wasn’t Such a Jerk After All

I found this wonderful article on The Guardian, How Michael Chang defeated Ivan Lendl at the French Open in 1989 written May 2013 in the “That 1980s Sports Blog.” This history of the event shed light on the details of what really happened and gave it a much fuller context.

I can honestly say after reading this, especially the part about Tiananmen Square which was not revealed on television at that time in 1989, I have been truly enlightened. My mind has been completely changed.

Speaking in 2009, Chang admitted that the shocking images [of Tiananmen Square] acted as a motivational force throughout the championships: "What it was really about was an opportunity to bring a smile upon Chinese people's faces around the world when there wasn't a whole lot to smile about. I honestly feel that that was God's purpose for allowing me to be able to get through those matches."
Source - The Guardian

It’s amazing to me that I let that one comment completely form an opinion about a person I did not know personally. If I examine the environment of competitive sport it seems Chang’s 1989 TV comment really struck a nerve with me then.

Chang’s 1989 TV comment came across as condescending, disingenuous, arrogant and ungrateful. It eclipsed his achievement for me. I was really young, I admit, and full of righteous conviction coupled with a strong moral compass impressed upon me by my father who took sportsmanship seriously.

My father is the kind of man that disliked Florida State’s Dion Sanders for years for “showboating” in the in-zone, now common practice today. He came from a time when it was important to win with decorum. Gone are the days of decorum in sport but I have tried to see the positives in the ways athletes express themselves today.

What used to be seen as gloating could perhaps be viewed as celebration – a dance with the fans to whom the athletes feel a bond. There has been a shift to appreciating the audience more and less focus on the opponent’s loss and how to protect the loser’s pride.

It’s a longer discussion: Should loser’s pride be guarded?

I think our society has become averse to failure (and any kind of pain and discomfort, really) so much so that people resort to cheating and drastic measures to avoid it. Examples could be the rise in doping in sport and enhancing surgeries, or psychologically stunting programs at youth athletic camps. It really is a sorry thing to lose without much seeming benefit in the world of sport.

I think the old way of being graceful to the losing opponent is better:

  • Grace acknowledges the opponents hard work and encourages them to continue and improve
  • Your own victory has more meaning because your opponent was truly challenging and you should acknowledge their effort

Decorum is healthier in my opinion. The celebratory “dance” to the gallery suits the corporate media profits more and is reminiscent of the Arena, and we are the Roman Mob being easily manipulated and appeased by business dictators. Perhaps that was a bit too strong of a statement.

I really would like to be enlightened differently – please share your thoughts on this and any suggested readings. I appreciate that! I'm open to being persuaded to seeing the positives.

Steemit Writing and Slaying the Self-deprecating Disclaiming Beast aka Michael Chang

When I first joined Steemit I was unsure what to write about or what exactly I wanted to accomplish. I’m still not sure if I want to put my art on here because I do not think it is aesthetically the best place to present artwork.

So, I decided to focus on writing and joined some contests to get started. I remember commenting on one contest “I’m not a very good writer but I’ll try.” I was really surprised when I won a prize.

Since that time I have never said again “I’m not a very good writer.”

It’s not that I now think I’m great. I know I’m not “great.” However, I know, and I did know then, that I’m passable. I’m decent. Sometimes on occasion I’m better than decent and on rare occasion I’m pretty good.

I shouldn’t have said – “I’m not a very good writer” -- because I know it not to be true.

I know on a conscious level I have a certain amount of education and skill where I can form a structured story or essay, possess an above average vocabulary and can form supporting statements to my thesis. That makes me passable.

Owning It

So why did I say it?

For me it could fall under any of these reasons:

  1. I’m new to the forum or place and want to set expectations others have of me rather low so that they are not disappointed with my contribution (most common feeling for me).
  2. I’m not really seeking critical feedback, likely because I’m doing it just for fun and not as an exercise in professional development
  3. I don’t want people to feel threatened by me
  4. I don’t want people to become jealous of me
  5. I want to be accepted to the group as “just one of the group” and do not like a lot of attention
  6. I’m trying to sound humble, like a good person, and not arrogant or self-important

I’m going to break it down how each of these actually could come across to the receiving persons:

  1. This really backfires when I start to produce quality work. I misrepresented myself as “not very good” when clearly, I am passable. I sounded insincere. This is different from being new to a skill or craft in which I think it's perfectly fine to say "I'm new to this" (still, it's best not to say I'm bad at it yet 'till I prove that to myself lol)
  2. Trying to pre-emptively deter criticism just is not going to work because people who like that process will do it regardless and might even view my “I’m not very good at…” preamble as an open invite to “help me improve.” This will really rankle my ego to have this person “teaching” me.
  3. Well, people are going to be threatened by me after the cat’s out of the bag. I might as well skip worrying about this as it wastes my mental energy.
  4. Same as #3
  5. Because of 3 & 4 there’s always going to be a hierarchy within a group especially when there’s competition and money on the line.
  6. I think this is the next most common reason for me to use this self-deprecation, after #1. I just want to sound nice. This is mostly formed from a cultural background steeped in etiquette and manners. Since I’ve been removed from that culture I now see how annoying it is.

How Other's Self-deprecation Effects Me

When I see people pre-empt and disclaim their skill or ability and then win a contest on Steemit that really pisses me off. Here I am a fellow competitor trying my best, decently, and this person comes along saying “Oh I really suck at writing” and then they win.

How do you think that must feel to your fellows and peers?

I lay myself on the line and take the full risk of what I put out there. I “own” it as they say. All the flaws, the bad, the fails – it’s mine. I cannot claim the victories and eschew the failures.

You can’t escape this either. It’s cheating. If I must bare myself to the harsh judgements and the spirited euphoria of competition, so must you. There’s no little disclaimer text you could append to your text that would convince me of your sincerity when you’ve revealed your true hand.

I hope this essay has given some food for thought. I do welcome comments, even a "fuck you" should you be offended. I’m not looking for agreement. I just want the creative spirit within you to roar and it not take 30 years for people to realize you really aren’t a jerk like Michael Chang a la 1989.

Admit you’re decent and are a worthy opponent.

Find me on Twitter if you want to stay in touch https://twitter.com/antimetica
Thank you so much for reading!


You make some exceptional points, but I will always be my own harshest critic, I don't think I could handle it if I was not. It helps me push myself to work harder and actively seek more feedback to improve. It also prepares me for any critical feedback I do get, and helps me accept it and learn from it instead of being guarded.

In some ways for me, it is similar to it taking a certain amount of intelligence to realise the limits of your own, I will only improve if I keep seeing the flaws in my work. For me, when I say things like not enjoying a story I wrote, or not being keen on how something turned out, it is in some ways about owning that. I am sure you have equally expediences in contests of stories you wouldn't have put in the top three out of the entries, winning, these things are subjective and in some way I guess it is me acknowledging that sometimes.

I really struggle with the whole sharing process when I do really like something, maybe in some ways I preemptively batter down any hint of hope before it arises, my re-occurring themes of the hurt of hope have real life rooting. If I think something is mediocre, or not brilliant, then when it doesn't get read much, it doesn't hurt as much. When I write something I love, I get anxiety after posting it, it isn't really worry, more like hopesick, I find it much easier to share when I am harder on myself.

For a long time, when I was more writing poetry, I didn't like much of what I wrote, now I have a great degree of affection towards some of it, but other stuff will still repel me. I don't think I say I am not a good writer (feel free to call me out on that ;) ) but I do have stronger and weaker stories, and feel like owning the weakness is important. Like baking a cake, it is still cake, it will still taste nice, but sometimes it could have turned out better, identifying when and why will only a better baker make.

You are by far one of the best writers I've come across in a long time. And no, I've never seen you say you felt you were a bad writer. I think it's different to say you know what? This piece could have been better, or, I'm not quite happy with it. I can certainly relate to that feeling very much. I applaud you for putting it out there even if you're not quite certain about it or if you know in your mind it's not "the best." Every song on an album isn't a hit after all, right?

I haven't ever been frustrated with your notes on your pieces. You are very specific about the feedback you are looking for and what your concerns were. You put it at the end too, which is great, rather than at the top. I've always viewed your notes as a solicitation for constructive help, or just some insight on your process, and that's a very positive thing.

You remind me of a close friend of mine, a brilliant musician, who is never happy with his songs (although you are happy with your work most times!). To me, a lay person, they sound amazing. I don't "get" it when he's critical of his work. I jokingly say to him, "well if that's you just messing around then you could make a whole album of that and everyone would like it so get to work." (lol) I'm just the "customer" - I have no inside knowledge of how it's made, what it's made from - all I know is I like it.

I find it much easier to share when I am harder on myself.

I totally understand. I do that too. Sometimes I practice a kind of self-therapy with that and separately create an exaggerated version of everything that I perceive as bad. For instance the original draft of this was much more scathing and angry (if you can imagine any higher level of angst lol). It's part of the process to see just how far I can go with da badness haha.

Speaking of this angst, there were actually a few people on my mind here when I wrote it and you certainly weren't one of them. I am totally "vaguebooking" here because I didn't name them or call them out. But the scenario is this - they are obviously skilled in professional level marketing, have a few steem based products (that I like, or else I wouldn't be following them) and they are dipping their toes into the creative writing contests, outside of their tech projects. The people I'm thinking of are using the whole "I'm not a good writer" thing and then winning these creative contests. I'm not angry that they are winning, I'm irritated with the insincere preambles disclaiming writing ability.

Two things, I am learning from here :-)
"I think our society has become averse to failure (and any kind of pain and discomfort, really) so much so that people resort to cheating and drastic measures to avoid it. "

"So, I decided to focus on writing and joined some contests to get started. I remember commenting on one contest “I’m not a very good writer but I’ll try.” I was really surprised when I won a prize."

Since that time I have never said again “I’m not a very good writer.”

These are really wonderful lesson you have written above. I really appreciate your whole journey on steemit. May you reach on the top.

Yours Reader

I appreciate your comment so much. I have started reading your poetry and it has a place in my heart this morning.

I am honoured.

Yours friend

I remember self-deprecating comments about myself early in my university career.

An upperclassman gave me a figurative slap on the back of my head to have me stop it. Since then, I've done better in work-related and personal dating life.

You don't have to aggrandize yourself or be a poser, but being objective about where you stand is definitely better than putting yourself down all the time.

Exactly! After all just getting in to the university is an achievement, right? I'm not a fan of poserdom or arrogance either but I certainly have subscribed to the "fake it till you make it" method in the past lol I appreciate your comment. When I reread my post I used very strong language. I look on it this morning and realized I had some specific people in mind when I wrote it (none of them follow me or are here in comments). Haha I sound so angry! This frustration has been building within me for weeks. Thanks for reading my venting ;)

It's what blogs are for!

This is worth way more than 93c. This is great writing. I'll spend more time to properly sink my teeth into it.


Thank you Nick! I appreciate your stopping by to read. I like your writing style and followed you (I'm on a bit of a summer break though at the moment so not on very much).

Well, for what it's worth, times like now, when the price of SBD/Steem is low, we need great writers and content producers to keep working hard. I always say that we need to write for ourselves first, because nothing is sustainable if we aren't doing what we love. If you're doing that on a regular basis, then the value of Steem will increase by virtue of the outstanding writers we have here producing original content for the platform.

I'm glad I stopped by to read your work. It added value to my day! May I ask which article you read of mine ? I have a few different genres that I write in and it's good to get some feedback.

I used to write on a wordpress blog, and boy, the feedback and interaction here is astronomically better than what I was getting all alone on the world wide web.

Take care and talk soon.


It was The Coroner. While I am not super big on the horror/thriller genre I thought it was well written and I found myself reading part 2 to find out what happened so it kept me interested. The details of how you showed him to be creepy were especially good - i.e. you showed, not telled, if that makes sense.

Steem(it)/Busy is my only blog at the moment too. I've used many different platforms over the years. I'm still evaluating Steemit honestly I like Busy better however it's buggy and doesn't work right at times. I have a lot of interest in STEEM's utility and am not really wed to any particular platform. The price fluctuation is not influencing my blogging habits because like I said this is my only place right now, I'm just doing other things :D

If all goes to plan, there may well be part three of The Coroner coming out today. It's a bit overdue seeing as though I find this series quite easy to write.


Hello, @antimetica! I am @lindahas, a curator from The Alexandria's Library Project. I found your post in the steemit ocean and showed it to our team. They loved it as much as I did so now your work gets resteemed and upvoted from the @Alexandrias-lib account! We all start small but grow big, our team wishes you all the best.

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Thank you @lindahas so much for your comment and for reading. I appreciate it so much!

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Hello @antimetica, thank you for sharing this creative work! We just stopped by to say that you've been upvoted by the @creativecrypto magazine. The Creative Crypto is all about art on the blockchain and learning from creatives like you. Looking forward to crossing paths again soon. Steem on!

Thank you very much for reading and sharing I really appreciate it :)

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