Don't Get Stabbed Like Caesar
On Ted Lasso, Linkin Park, and being competitive
I used to play this one song on repeat in my discman while waiting to get picked up after high school. It was the fall of 2000, and less than two months into high school, Linkin Park dropped their debut album Hybrid Theory. I’d already heard “One Step Closer” and “In the End” on TRL— which I can thank for my introduction to “alternative music” in the first place because no one else in my life was listening to Korn, Nine Inch Nails, or this weird rap metal band Linkin Park—but it was track four, “Points of Authority,” that proved to be my personal earworm.
It starts with Mike Shinoda rapping the lyrics, “Forfeit the game / before somebody else takes you out of the frame / and puts your name to shame / cover up your face / you can’t run the race / the pace is too fast / you just won’t last.” As an adult I now realize this is a song about escaping an abusive relationship, as the chorus sung by Chester Bennington (RIP) repeats the lyrics “you like to think you’re never wrong” and “you want someone to hurt like you.” But as a freshman two months into my new, all-male, predominantly white Jesuit high school, there’s a reason my brain fixated on the intro and bridge to the song.
Despite my protests about attending Marquette High—because none of my friends would be attending (they were mostly girls) and because it was all-male (For the entirety of eighth grade, people asked me if I was gay once they found out I was attending a school with no girls)—there was rigorous testing involved with acceptance and I certainly wasn’t going to fail a test just to get out of going to a school.
On orientation day, my grandmother Bobbie reminded me that I needed to be more like the polished, (seemingly) poised for success white boys that surrounded us—little did she know how many psychotic drug addicts she was looking at while saying this. Why was it imperative that I compare myself to these boys every day? Because competition was something that had been instilled in me by Bobbie who rose through the ranks of the military to become a Sergeant Major. Because the only way to make it out of my family’s economic circumstances was to be better than everyone else I went to school with. Because the characters I aspired to be in the daytime soap operas my family watched were all the career-driven, conniving bitches.
In my mind life itself was the game, and I was Shinoda, not whoever he was singing at. Whenever I needed pumping up for an exam, when I applied to colleges, when I had a crush on a straight football player that I needed to get over, I put on “Points of Authority.” Competition is healthy, but if absolute power corrupts absolutely, then intense competition can get you stabbed to death on the steps of the Theatre of Pompey. Because every algorithm wants to control our lives and probably has all of our memories embedded in them, Spotify created a Time Capsule playlist for me with a bunch of pop songs from the 2000s, which included that very Linkin Park song. And that dopamine rush of competition has been back on my brain. I’ve had moments of burnout from competition before that usually resulted in sessions of sad music in my room in complete darkness, but more recently I’d had the sense that I was headed for a flame out that even a phoenix couldn’t rise from.
Throughout the pandemic, I saw all the viral memes about how pandemic burnout was real and how, with our entire lives upended, it was reasonable to feel like you were literally crumbling to pieces. You’ll probably remember from earlier in this piece that I’m competitive by nature,, so I ignored this. I double down on working with a trainer. I sold a film. I sold a television pilot. I began working on several others. I started this newsletter. I probably drunkenly uttered the phrase, “I’m not Patsy Cline, bitch, I refuse to fall to pieces” to a friend who resisted the urge to tell me to shut the fuck up.
Of course, that ignores the fact that most of this work was being done with the knowledge that Bobbie had been diagnosed with cancer. One that happened at the onset of the pandemic. One that I only cried about in random intervals because I refused to let myself ever dwell on it for too long. So as the year came to a close, I was on a high. The best I’d ever felt in my entire life. Then Bobbie went into remission. And with nothing existential to compete against, when that one thing that could’ve made me crumble was gone, that’s when the wall that so many people hit during the pandemic finally hit me.
Suddenly, I was beyond drained emotionally and physically, and at the most depressed I’d been in years. I was soothing most of my stress by getting stoned and watching Ted Lasso. The Apple TV+ comedy series Jason Sudeikis won a Golden Globe for this year had always been on my list of things to watch, but I finally started watching the show I’d resisted for so long because everyone’s review of it boiled down to: “it’s a really nice show and you’ll feel nice after watching it.” And, well, nice is different than good.
Turns out Ted Lasso might have saved my life.
Okay, that’s really fucking dramatic. It changed my emotional state.
The series revolves around the plucky character of Lasso, who comes to England to coach a football (soccer) team but only knows how to play American football. Also, he’s not particularly interested in winning so much as he is interested in everyone having a good time and becoming better versions of themselves (which makes sense, since creator Bill Lawrence has made an art out of the hangout sitcom in settings where work should be the most important thing—Scrubs and my personal fave, Spin City). That was such a foreign concept to me that I found myself resisting each episode with an eye roll, despite being utterly charmed by each subsequent episode. Eventually, Sudeikis and the rest of the cast wore me down, andI finally realized that for someone living the supposed best version of their life, I wasn’t particularly happy with it. I realized I’d been afraid to voice this because I was worried I’d be treated like Prince Harry saying he felt trapped while living in Buckingham Palace and off the wealth of the nations that England plundered for centuries.
Sometimes you can be in an abusive relationship with yourself. Many of us are, as my therapist would tell me. And it was then I realized that “Points of Authority” was a song that applied to my life, but not in the way I thought it did in high school. Maybe Shinoda actually was talking to me about how sometimes losing is worth learning from the experience. Losing so that the pressure I put on myself to succeed could be less intense. Because once again, I don’t want to get stabbed like Caesar.
The final episode of Ted Lasso centers around his distaste for the phrase “it’s the hope that kills you.” Because hope is what actually keeps us alive. When everything is a competition, hope can surely kill you. But if it doesn’t, then hope is what you’re left with when there’s absolutely nothing else there.