Saturday, 12 August 2017

QuizFest and a Change in Perspective

Last Sunday, during my holiday to the New Forest I left a quiz half way through. I've only ever done that once before in almost exactly 3 years of serious quizzing. Thus begins perhaps the most important post I've ever written in this blog. It's largely stream of consciousness; I don't know exactly what I'm going to say here, it will be long but is worth reading if you follow this blog and/or my quizzing activities.

I shocked myself by leaving that quiz. The only previous time was on my first visit to Nottingham, when I accidentally went to a student music quiz that I left just after it started. The quiz itself isn't very relevant, but I'll get to that later anyway. 

That it happened was immediate evidence that QuizFest the day before had shaken me to my core, opened my eyes to a new reality. In some ways, it was meant a genuine change to the way things will now always be. In others, it meant snapping out of of some unfortunate denial and complacency that had taken hold of me. That's what this post is about, and it's important because things won't be the same anymore. To be clear, it's a good thing; ultimately it's only net future positives I'm discussing here.

First though, what was QuizFest, exactly?


QuizFest was amazing. It was a one-day quizzing extragavanza, a chance to meet and greet celebrity quizzers such as Chasers and Eggheads. For non-Brits, The Chase and The Eggheads are two of the most popular gameshows here. The Chase also has an American version, but there's 5 Chasers here (one of whom is the guy who does the American version, Mark Labbett), 3 of whom were present. Eggheads gives teams of amateurs the chance to face some of the very best quizzers in the country, including 6-time world champion Kevin Ashman.

3 Chasers and a lot of Eggheads were there, including Ashman. I have to admit, I was starstruck when I first got there; I didn't know what to say! I've seen these guys on TV, I idolise them and I want to be them. There, I said it. I enjoy winning, though what I really crave is being good enough to win. You know, that's a significant statement, and I could do with highlighting those. I'll probably consolidate them into a single list later.

Realisation: I want to win. I enjoy participating, but I want more than that. I want to be good enough to win in difficult circumstances - with few/no teammates, under pressure, with difficult questions, in subjects I'm not comfortable with, etc.

That's what the Chasers and Eggheads are capable of. When I quiz alone, I'm trying to get what I can, little as that may be. When they quiz alone, they can and do beat entire teams, entire buildings of people! When I watch these shows, it's them I'm watching more than the contestants. I want to be a contestant right now, I love that idea - but eventually, I want to be on the other side.

Wait, let's dial that back a bit. I said I "idolise" these celebrity quizzers. That's an unfortunate word. Not because I'm religious and thus care about the breach of the Commandment against idolatry, but because it indicates having lost sight of the fact that these celebrities are fundamentally people. I'd never met them before QuizFest and so didn't know what they'd be like.

Realisation: Quizzers at the top level are no different from anyone else; their attitudes and personality are not naturally distinctive

This sounds obvious, in a way, but struck me all the same. Kevin Ashman is a humble a man as I've ever met, telling me of his surprise at his success when I congratulated him upon his 6th World Championship win. Eggheads and Chasers alike were genuinely thrilled to meet their fans, and clearly delighted just to have fans. There was no aura of inapproachability as one might expect with A-List film stars, and their personas on the show were totally absent. 

True enough, Mark Labbett is an imposing man and Paul Sinha a witty, funny man, and all are supremely intelligent - but all were easily approachable. I was struck by the fact that I was almost casually conversing with these famous geniuses! Not that they'd likely think of themselves that way. They're not considering themselves in relation to those many tiers below them in the quizzing ranks, after all, but in relation to each other.

See, that's the key point about there being no difference between professionals and the rest of us, with "rest of us" here meaning trivia enthusiasts/quizzers of course, they have the same fundamental characteristics. So they, and we, have a decent memory/general knowledge/intelligence, but are also highly competitive, want to beat not only their peers but the questions themselves, they love learning and want to learn more, are bothered by getting questions wrong and thus gaps in their knowledge existing/being exposed, etc. It sounds obvious and I've made clear those are characteristics of me plenty of times. But I wasn't expecting it to be as straightforward as that with those at the very top, which it was.

Which leads me, sort of, to another aspect of the day, which was actually in itself amazing, and that was meeting people who are a level below the professionals, though still far above myself. I'm talking about Quiz League of London players, the kind who have won, or at least done extremely well on, a number of TV quiz shows. I won't name these people, but there were a few there, at least one whom I've followed on Twitter for some time. In these people, the very same attitudes were there.

I got the chance to meet them at the big quiz that ended the evening. There were 2, a fun team event and a more serious event for professionals competing alone - and brave amateurs. The Chasers and Eggheads couldn't win the prize money, that inevitably going to the QLL players, not those as weak as me. Which is what happened, of course. I'd gone for the professional event for 2 reasons: 1. I didn't know anyone else going, and therefore couldn't enter the team event and 2. this was a chance to see how the quizzing Gods I admired lived. And yes, I used the terms "Gods" and "mortals" throughout the day and after. I'll not apologise for that.

The quiz was duly the hardest I've ever done, though I think I did myself credit by scoring at least once in every round except 1. In fact, the quiz was hard enough that even the pros struggled, with the runaway winner naturally being Ashman, on 42/60. Yes, the 6-time world champion got 18/60 wrong, which has happened how often since this man started serious quizzing? I managed 9/60, which not only put me 4th out of the 7 amateurs, but actually left me ahead of Egghead Beth Webster on 7/60! There was a separate 20 question picture round that didn't count to the final scores, and my score on this of 8 was equal to that of Chasers Mark Labbett and Shaun Wallace. Let's just make something clear at this point.

Realisation: I am nowhere NEAR the calibre of the Chasers & Eggheads, nor below them the QLL players, but I do have some quizzing talent.

The above is something that came to mind rather later, and indeed reflects my current mental state, because at the time I was actually thinking closer to the exact opposite.

Being in the presence of people I'd even jokingly refer to as "Gods", there simply was no comparison between myself and them. I've used in the time since QuizFest a football analogy to relate the size of the chasm: if the pros are Premier League footballers, I'm Sunday League. I'll come back to the QLL players but they would be League 1 or 2 players in this analogy, perhaps Championship (NB for non-Brits - the Premier League is the top tier of English football, the Championship is the second tier, and Leagues 1 and 2 follow, though all 4 are professional can please ignore that technical flaw in my analogy).

I honestly believe that as an individual, I'm up there when it comes to the pub quizzers in my area. One-on-one, I'd gladly take on anyone and at least put up a decent fight, and that at certain quizzes I'd be the clear outright winner. Yet let us not pretend that the pond I swim in is particularly big, which means that this is not a claim to be boasting about.

Realisation: I may be a reasonably big fish, but only in the context of an extremely small pond.

This is something I've been conscious of for quite a long time, really, and is definitely a factor in my wanting to travel around and seek other challenges. I'm aware of the echo-chamber effect and I'm aware that I'm constraining myself and denying myself the chance to truly improve by simply remaining in my local area doing the same local quizzes. While I consider these quizzes challenging, I'm not going to improve simply by doing them endlessly, and I'm not going to know the true extent of my abilities by doing that either.

To use another flawed analogy, if I'm a goldfish swimming in a bowl, I jumped at QuizFest into a lake and was trying not to drown. To my credit, I actually did stay afloat.

I think what really surprised me about how I felt at QuizFest was that I didn't actually feel humbled by the talent surrounding me, simply inspired. I've been known to be excessively critical, and to waste time, effort and energy lambasting myself to no consequence. I didn't do or feel that this time, which speaks to this post being filled with ultimately positive feelings.

Realisation: I don't have anything to criticise myself for in terms of the level I quiz at or my history in the hobby. That I have things to work on and improvements I can make does not mean I should regretting not doing so earlier.

This is really important. I've been seriously quizzing 3 years now, and have dramatically improved in my level since then. "Exponential" may not be quite the right word for it, as my improvement has been gradual in that time, but it's fair to say that I've been moving quicker and attempting to do more recently, so I probably have gained more in the last year than I did in the preceding one.

It would be easy to feel regret at all this, because I do wish I'd discovered my calling earlier in life - yes, it's obvious that's what quizzing is to me. But I don't regret it because there were reasons that it didn't happen, first among them that I just didn't realise how much I loved quizzing or that I even had the potential to do anything in the hobby. I grew up believing I would live a stereotypical life and that I'd have a wife, picket fence, saloon car and 2.4 children by now. Even in those 90s times the idea of doing something like quizzing for a living was absurd. Had I been born a decade later..not necessarily!

Again though, these things can't be changed and I'm not interested in wasting time lamenting the past when I could be using that same energy to instead change the future. I'm still relatively young, at 30, and thus time is on my side. Most of these vastly superior quizzers were also much older than I, which means they have already used time I still have. At an equivalent age, if I keep, improving, who knows where I might be?

Realisation: There is absolutely no point in trying to make exact comparisons to individuals

File this under "stating the obvious" and yet it's still relevant, especially since when I turned 30 last year I found myself considering the sort of questions like "where I am I in life relative to where I expected when I turned 20, and relative to my peers now?" Considering professional quizzers and noting that they are older than me might bring me hope that I can get close to them in time, but I might also look at smarter people who are a decade younger and lament that they have started earlier or are generally better. Avoiding the latter is certainly worth abstaining from the former as well.

No, my focus ought to be on myself and in the present. There's something...relaxing, I suppose? About deciding to take such a common sense approach. Common sense though it is, a detailed explanation of the issues around a different approach helps reassure me that it is the right one. There's no, or at least less, temptation to look elsewhere when I've already considered and rejected the merits of doing so; I can be certain I'm doing the right thing, and there is no doubt.

I did say I'd return to the QLL players and so I am doing so now, in consideration of the nature and scale of the task before me. Before I can go further, I must state in as exact terms as possible exactly what that task is.

Realisation: I want to become a better, more successful quizzer, those terms being defined in terms of measurable outcomes such as scores, wins, trophies, prizes, etc, as well as intangible outcomes such as generally improved knowledge, greater intelligence and effectiveness in circumstances related to quizzing.

So that's what I want, and to do it requires...well, that is the question, is it not. The point of this blog post is not to answer the question millions ask themselves and each other every day, "How do I become a better quizzer?". This is about myself, my introspections and what happened at QuizFest and beyond. So let's return to what I was talking about.

So far I've identified what it is I want to achieve, where I currently stand, and a couple of things that there's no point in doing because they won't help me improve. Okay then.

As I said, I was coming back to to the QLL players, specifically because of where I stand in relation to them. As I noted to someone recently, the chasm between myself and the pros is gargantuan. In truth it's gargantuan between someone at my level and the QLL guys, too - but it is nonetheless closer.

In itself, that's not an observation with practical consequences. As I've said, or at least implied, there's no exactitudes here, and simply focussing on being at QLL level rather than pro level isn't going to change the enormity of the task or the reality of the situation. Improvement is gradual. And improvement is sought by those at the QLL level as well. Just to clarify before I go further, by "QLL" I'm here talking about the amateurs who happen to play at that level. The Chasers and Eggheads also play in the QLL itself, and I met one of Kevin Ashman's teammates who amusingly claimed that his default strategy in a given match is to let Kevin do most of the answering. It's both quicker to write "QLL" and "pro" though and also does help make clear the relevant practical distinction between the skill levels that I'm discussing here.

Skill levels, yes...there's no specific defined levels obviously, but to pick up again my football analogy from earlier, there are leagues between the lower league professionals and the Sunday League stuff I play. Even with this analogy, I set myself apart from others because those who actually play in a league demonstrate a level of commitment, dedication and skill above and beyond those who just kick a ball about every now and then. I'm definitely not the latter kind of quizzer.

So if there are in-between levels, then I can target them. Well, not target them in the sense of try and specifically be there, but note their existence as my skill improve and I generate better results for myself. In football the lines are somewhat blurred past a certain point, as amateur becomes semi-professional, as the requirements increase, the difficulty rises and the opportunities become fewer. The serious semi-pro, or those at the top end of the amateur game, are surely committing as much time, money, effort and skill etc into the game as lower level actual professionals, especially if they're trying to juggle family, another job, etc.

That's definitely the case with me and quizzing. I think of my hobby as a second full time job, and I actually do spend close to as much time on it as I do my day job. I worked it out, I'm spending around about 30 hours a week on my quizzing activities, when you factor in travel time, writing quizzes, this blog and more in addition to physically doing quizzes. That's...a lot. Most people, even regular quizzers, are looking at 3/4 hours even when including the travel and pre/post quiz drinking at their single quiz a week.

It's a job by nature too, except that I don't get paid. There's the commute, sometimes a break of sorts, a bit of hard graft, preparation in between, and performance evaluation in the form of the statistics I keep. There's no one to have formal "reviews" with but I am trying to keep myself on track through my spreadsheets and this blog, and I'm continuing to drive myself towards a more focussed and efficient attitude.

But there's a big problem with this way of thinking. It's the word "job". There's negative connotations there. Connotations of compulsion, of obligation, of tasks that are required, a chore, and not entertaining. There's a couple of really important statements here.

Realisation: If I feel required or obligated to do something for reasons that extend beyond innate personal desire, I will want to do it less and the chances that I will do it decrease.

That's not easy to say, because it speaks to the fundamental problem with my mindset, with my work ethic. It's not just A problem, it's THE problem. It's affected me all my life, and I've been trying for many years, without success, to find a solution. In fact, it's the very reason this blog post has taken me so long to write! I was home from work 2.5 hours before recommencing work on it, despite having already written a great deal last night and the day before.

Why the delay? I think it fundamentally comes down to anxiety, and the fact that I tend to avoid difficult or unpleasant things by fleeing them, through procrastination. The need to put in effort, the fear I might fail, that sort of thing. It sounds pathetic, and is, in a way, but simply acknowledging the problem is only the first step to solving it, not the last. As I said, I want a way, and I haven't found it yet. It affects me in many areas of my life, quizzing being among the least given how much effort I clearly do put into it.

Still, it's the reason I'm not as efficient with getting my quizzes written, or with my studying. Despite the glory of the end result, the intimidation factor of the task itself can prevent or limit me even making the attempt.

The strange thing is, when I'm not afflicted by this, I actually have a damn good work ethic. I'm a very hard worker, a grafter, a grinder, I'll not only get through it and with endless enthusiasm but I'll explore the work and find better, more interesting or efficient ways to do it. I wouldn't be where I am now if that weren't the case. If I simply coasted through life doing the bare minimum, I wouldn't have achieved what I have. This is an expansive subject, so let's now state 3 key things consecutively.

Realisation: I do not have the innate skill, intelligence, aptitude etc to achieve what I want without putting in serious work and effort. I cannot pass an exam without studying, nor win quizzes without preparation.

Realisation: The amount of work I have put in, and do regularly, should not be understated or undervalued. I've done a huge amount to get even to this point, and have therefore earned what I have. Per the above, I wouldn't have it if I didn't earn it. I'm justified in feeling proud of that.

Realisation: Enjoyment of the task in itself is the most valuable motivational factor there is. I will stop quizzing when I stop enjoying it, and if I don't enjoy some aspect of it, then I must consider the necessity of it. If it's not necessary and I don't enjoy it, then I shouldn't do it.

We're really getting into the heart of the matter here. As I said, I can't with these words or by any means solve the problems that plague my mindset, that hold back my ambition and desire for success. Believe me, if I had those answers I'd have solved the problem. But what I can do is further consider the problem, and with these words lay it out flat and hopefully drive some positive improvements. Actually, before going any further, there's another thing.

Realisation: Improvements, or the potential for them, should not be ignored, dismissed or undervalued simply because they are small or gradual. The improvement I seek will inevitably be gradual, and anything that helps is to be welcomed, even if it takes time or doesn't do much in itself.

By this I mean, I'm not looking to leap to the top of the mountain in a single bound, just take another step up it.

Given the above, the best thing I can probably do for myself is find a way to enjoy what I do more. If the negatives of a task can't be removed, then I've got to either find it in myself to enjoy doing it anyway, despite the task itself not changing, or else find some other motivation like the glory that is the result of the task completed.

I'm still speaking in bigger terms than just quizzing, here. I must admit, I'm bad for procrastinating on housework, and the same mindset applies, especially when I've left it a while and the problem has become significant - it becomes daunting and I find I lack the inclination to spend what has become the full day needed to solve the problem. I can find a way to enjoy the task more, like by playing music as I clean, or I can focus on thinking about how wonderful it will be to have a clean house once more, for it is indeed a great feeling.

Yet again I repeat, that's not something I can force overnight. But I'm hopeful that by writing all this and really opening up to both myself and anyone who is, for some reason, reading this, that I can drive improvements in one area of my life and use that to spur me on to make the same improvements in other areas. If I can improve my quizzing work ethic, then maybe I can become better at doing the housework promptly. Or vice versa! Either way, works, but this being a quizzing blog and quizzing being the dominant activity in my life, being more than just leisure at this point, here's my focus for now.

Okay, let's dial back again to where I was talking about quizzing as a job. "Job" is an unhelpful word here. Today, actually, I realised a better one: vocation. See, I've said before, to myself and probably on here, certainly to others, that quizzing is like a calling for me. It feels so innately good and enjoyable that it seems like something I was...meant? To do? I'm not religious and I don't believe in fate. Something I should be doing, given my talent for and interest in it, then, I suppose.

This isn't the place to truly explore my past mental health issues, but I'm not ashamed of having them. I've suffered from anxiety since I was about 5, and depression too. I have been suicidal, I'll even say that too. I feel like I lost a lot of my 20s to it. That "run and hide" mindset I spoke of early stopped my life dead for several years in the middle of my last decade, and while my friends advanced their lives, mine remained largely stagnant.

I've already discussed that it's not helpful to compare myself to people in such ways, and I'm not doing so anymore. The point is that I spent a lot of time in my 20s trying to find a real purpose in life. I'm a faddish person, always have been, I go from one obsession to another, moving on once the fire goes out and I get bored or else reach a point where I'd need to put in so much effort to enjoy it that it stops being worth it.

For a long time, I assumed quizzing was just another in the list of those obsessions. To some extent, I still do, I think. I'm ready for the day I wake up and just decide I don't want to do it anymore, that I don't want to go out to quizzes or write or host them or study for them. Part of me assumes that the lightswitch will go off one day and boom, I just won't be a quizzer anymore. Just like that.

What do I do if that happens? Who am I? A guy floating through space and time without purpose or direction, because I had one and lost or let go of it. A disturbing thought.

Not as disturbing though, I've come to realise, as the notion that I am nothing without such an obsession, because that is not a healthy situation to be in.

Realisation: Quizzing is a huge part of my life, but it is not in itself my life. My life exists without quizzing, and would continue if I were to decide or be forced to stop attending quizzes.

This is key to understanding and managing the mindset of me, someone who is addicted to and obsessed with quizzes. Sort of. I don't tend to think of myself as obsessed, though I'll give you "addicted". That kind of compulsion isn't healthy, and leads to increased anxiety through the fear of it being taken away. 

I was in a relationship before, a very serious one, that was mutually self-destructive to an extent precisely because there were obsessive feelings there on both sides, including a belief that all we had was each other. Those feelings sustained the relationship for a long time, but weren't enough when circumstances came between us. The relationship itself was incredible for years, but there was an element of unhealthiness too, and I was broken when it ended because it had become the entirety of my life. I felt I had nothing.

It's not a coincidence that I've become such a serious quizzer after that happened. Quizzing accidentally came about in part because I was trying to find a purpose again after I had lost it. But that still leaves me worried that I'll experience the same sort of destructive emotions, that quizzing will become a crutch for me and that I'll fear what might happen if I ever lose it. 

And that could easily happen! If I break my legs, I won't be able to drive to quizzes. I'm single, I live alone, and public transport in this area is sketchy at best. If I lose my mobility, I won't be able to get out there so often. It's not likely to happen but it could, conceivably, and so I need to always consider the possibility - and how that will affect me mentally. 

Part of the reason I do so many quizzes is because I'm scared about that. I've come to realise since QuizFest that it's something I've been in denial about. See, if I can go to a quiz but choose not to, if I simply decide to have a night off, then I don't enjoy it, I've found. Being alone with my feelings...not something I like. There's darkness there, there's depression and anxiety, a feeling of helplesness, worthlessness. Having the opportunity to be productive is great! Deciding consciously not to? I hate myself for that. And that's not healthy.

Realisation: I need to be able to enjoy myself without quizzing; I need to be able to just not do a quiz without it affecting me in any way.

I've already alluded to the reason I feel this way - the notion/fear that one day, I'll suddenly stop quizzing and will thus give up my purpose in life, cutting myself adrift. If I don't do one quiz, it's easy to just not do the next, and the one after that, and the one after that. At first it's tough, but then it gets easier, and I find that I just can't be bothered making the effort to go - and get into a habit of that.

Realisation: I am a creature of habit, and I need to force good habits to be created, or else bad ones will create themselves. Though forcing myself to do something guarantees I won't, as per previous realisations

I compel myself to go to quizzes in order to stave off this fear of the slippery slope that will mean I give it all up completely. I fixate on the numbers, get them as high as possible, do as many as I can. Because while I'm there, I'm not stuck myself in my house forced to face any unhappy realities about the inside of my head - that can get put off until the next night, at which point I put it off again by going to another quiz. Wash, rinse, repeat. 


Hang on here, this is getting very dark, very negative, and this while massive rambling post is meant to be positive. But the night is darkest just before the dawn, and fundamentally I need to say all this, to get it out on paper, because these are issues that need to be addressed and dealt with. I've been in denial about this for too long, and that in itself is problematic.

Realisation: By fixating on trivialities like the number of quizzes I do, by forcing myself to go to each and every one I physically can, I don't increase my enjoyment of them. In fact, I find I enjoy them less, and the knowledge that I'm simply procrastinating from actually examining the dark thoughts within me becomes a fear that damages my enjoyment of life itself.

Realisation: When I can't attend quizzes, through circumstances rather than choice, I find that absence makes the heart grow fonder and my hunger for and enjoyment of quizzes increases on my return

Realisation: Taking breaks from quizzing improves my performance, because I want to be there so much more and that in itself makes me play better. 

These three realisations are the entire reason I started writing this post. FINALLY we are back at the start. At my not attending a quiz on Sunday, or rather attending but leaving early. At my shock in doing so, what it says about me that I did it and what it means for the future.

Back in January, at the end of January, I got the flu. I was as ill as I'd been in...years. Literally, the only time I'd been anywhere close to as sick in the last...decade, perhaps as long as that? Would have been two incidents of food poisoning. This came from nowhere, though was part of a very serious bug that was hospitalising people who hadn't seen a doctor in 25 years, so that it got me despite my own recent good health couldn't be seen as too surprising really.

What it meant was that I was essentially bedridden for a full week. That meant no quizzes. This was before I was doing my Sunday quiz though I was looking at trying it out around then and had to not do so. In fact I went a full 7 days without quizzing, and I know for a fact that I did not go so long in the whole of 2016. I wasn't quizzing as seriously in the earlier part of 2015, but it's safe to say that I had gone at least 18 months doing at least one quiz in every single 7 day period. Until that week.

It was gutting to miss out on so many quizzes - 4, if you count the Sunday one I'd have tried in that time. I feared for my own mindset, I feared that I either wouldn't be bothered or wouldn't want to go back. My own choice of course, but if I didn't go back to doing them so regularly, then as I've said I'd have felt lost again, and after so long I didn't like that idea.

I had no need to worry. I was hungry to get back, I desperately wanted it and I took the first chance I got. And I played very well in doing so. Maybe it was the increased sleep I got in that time, maybe it was the drugs or the fact that I'd been required to eat and drink more healthily that was improving my physical health, who knows! What I know is that my mindset was better, and I played better.

Realisation: Quizzing is a physical game, not just a mental one. Basic intelligence is far from the only relevant factor.

I learned a huge amount during that forced leave of absence. In truth I'd been intrigued by the idea for a while, but there was that fear of being adrift I keep coming back to. There was also something more primal, and you can laugh if you will, but for me, the idea of not going to quizzes for a few days or a week as an experiment is rather like that of convincing a caffeine addict to try decaf coffee for a while to see if it improves their energy levels. 

I mean, sure, long-term it would almost certainly help, but in the short-term, during that experiment you'd be thinking about the immediate pleasures you're missing out on, not the bigger picture stuff. For me, there was also the aforementioned guilt that comes with not going on purpose, and that in itself would be very hard to deal with.

So there was no way I was ever going to do it. But flu forced me away from quizzes. My hands were tied. And I'm honestly glad about it. I couldn't and didn't feel guilty about it, and there was nothing to my worry that I might just decide not to go back.

Realisation: Quizzing is not just another in my past list of obsessions. It is a true and genuine calling, a vocation. I know that I will stick with it, and that missing one or more, by choice, does not mean I'll lose that or stop doing the others.

I wouldn't have felt that hunger if that weren't true. Missing those quizzes wouldn't have driven and inspired me to future success otherwise. If I was to stop, it would have been then. That was my opportunity, if that's the right word to use.

Unfortunately, I lost sight of that lesson. I had a terrific week or so of results after I returned from my illness, but then fell into a horrible lull. I went 40 quizzes over the course of about 6 weeks without a single win. I can't wholly explain it, though I've discussed it certainly in this blog. It's not relevant here, though my confidence was certainly hit, and rebounded again once I ended the streak. Fortunately, I've not gone so long without a win after that, not that I seriously track such things.

Still, I'm disappointed in myself that I forgot how good it felt to come back after being away. Going to quizzes has never felt a chore or a burden, but doing it to excess still reduces my effectiveness. Burnout, it comes down to burnout and desire alone cannot overcome or prevent it. Yet avoiding it by skipping the occasional quiz is inconceivable!

I've tried to be a little better in that regard, by not going to one particular quiz regularly. My regular Thursday one at the Anchor in Kippford only runs through the winter months, November to April. There is another I can go to on a Thursday, in Kirkcudbright. I'm known and liked there, and I enjoy the quiz. Unfortunately, it's expensive, in terms of time, money and petrol, to attend. It's 35 miles away and thus the best part of an hour, plus there's an entry fee. So I decided not to go to it this summer. I've been once and I might go again, but I'm not making it a regular thing.

That has given me my Thursday nights back, for the summer at least, and it's actually proving quite nice. I can use the time for doing other things, such as relaxing, writing quizzes or catching up with the blog. A decent amount of the blog gets written in such times. And I don't regret that. I really need to be taking that to heart.

Realisation: My quizzing should not be a numbers game. Getting caught up in the numbers reduces my overall enjoyment. Less is more!

We're really closing in on it now. You see, on Sunday I almost didn't go to a quiz at all. I'd found an option, a quiz a few towns over, but I wasn't really feeling it. It was strange, because I was still processing all that had happened, still riding the highs and lows of QuizFest, and yet I wasn't really feeling it. unusual. Some aspects of it were, anyway. Some weren't.

Realisation: I don't have the same desire I once did to quiz alone. I know I am not good enough, and participation in itself is not enough right now

This is the other key aspect of this post, I'm getting now to the last big area I need to talk about: the change in focus, in perspective. I've been writing for 4 hours tonight alone and have probbaly spent 8 or 9 in total, and yet I've only just gotten here. Strange. But oh well.

I'm a mercenary quizzer, that much I've discussed. Well, not in this post but in my big rules one I made recently. I travel around, I join teams where I can, and quiz alone where I can't. Something I've been in denial about is that I'm not as happy as I used to be about doing the latter.

I really do love travelling to new places, meeting new people and trying new quizzes. I certainly don't want to win just by coasting on the success of others, by joining the very best teams and riding their coattails. But I do want to win. I do want to make a name for myself. I will make a better name for myself by winning. If I can at least help those teams win, perhaps push them over the line, or else make the margin of victory greater, then I will have done something great.

Quizzing alone in these new places doesn't give me that, unfortunately, and there's a few aspects to that. Firstly, I'm self conscious about being alone. Teams, people surrounded by their friends - and me, looking strange, alone. That brings a loneliness to the night. The teams get to talk to each other, whereas I'm stuck looking at a book or my phone. The latter only if reception and the rules allow, too. It's not as much fun, not gettin to talk all evening.

Then there's the expectations and the realities. When people see me at a quiz alone, they often assume I'm very good, or else why would I be there? That creates an expectation. They may think I'm strange, a weird loner, and that's not so fun. If I can prove that I'm there because I am indeed good enough, then fantastic, great!

But can I? Where I am right now, simply put, no, I cannot. That's not self-deprecation, it's just a simple fact. I have only ever won one quiz alone, back in 2012 not long after I started doing them. Close calls have haunted me since, but either way, it hasn't happened again, nor do I expect it to happen imminently. The kind of quizzes I go to don't have the structure that allows it, because a good quiz pretty much requires a team, in order to cover all the key knowledge bases. One person can have that, the Chasers certainly do after all, but usually doesn't. My quest to become the person who does hasn't succeeded yet, and as such, I'm not.

In the early days of my doing this, going it alone was a novelty. My first quizzing holiday, wow! That novelty has long since worn off, but more than that, I'm not doing quizzes alone locally anywhere near as often either. Last year, I did 48 quizzes alone, almost one a week. This year so far, it's significantly fewer, and almost all of those were the early days of the Carlisle quiz before I got to know people. Doing it less here means I'm used to it less, which means I'm more comfortable, and familiar with doing them in a team and I have that expectation as more of a baseline, unlike the days when joining a team was a comparative novelty.

Nowadays, I have more confidence to try and find a team, both locally and not. That means that when I can't find a team, I find I experience negative emotions because I know I'm going to do much worse than I would had I found associates. That's just the reality, I will do worse. My confidence drops, I feel deflated, I perform worse anyway and I enjoy myself less. Over time that's become a lot less fun to do regularly.

And so we come back to it - if I'm not enjoying it, why do it? Why is it better to force myself to go out to a quiz where I will not or may not have a team, when I could simply give it a miss, get a good night's sleep, and come back rejuvenated at the next one, eager to make up for the lost time?

The answer as to what I should do in such situations is clear. 

Realisation: The gamble is certainly worth the risk some of the time, I should definitely go along to strange new quizzes and hope I can find people willing to take me on. But I shouldn't feel forced, and I shouldn't make myself do it every night.

That's really positive!

I want to keep bringing the positives as this whole saga draws to a close. The perspective change reflects on other things too. I've found myself viewing the quizzes themselves differently, more positively, since QuizFest.

Realisation: I should not get hung up on bad performances, especially if the subject doesn't suit me or the questions are written badly.

This one is huge. It's fair to say I've not taken all my losses in the past well. I don't, I'm hugely self-critical and I lambast myself constantly. As noted above, this isn't helpful. There will be times when things just don't go right. Maybe the questions don't fall right, maybe I make mistakes I shouldn't, maybe my associates do - maybe the quiz isn't well done. Not all quizzes are created equal and not every QM does a great job every night. That's not a commentary on any specific person, just a fact.

If I mess up a question because I know nothing of the subject matter, I should be inspired to look it up. If I get it wrong because there's simply not enough information to consider it if I just don't know it, then perhaps it's not a great question, in which case it doesn't matter. If I just make a mistake when I shouldn't, then I should get over it because maybe next time I won't make that mistake!

All of these sound obvious, but all are things I just haven't done. Until now. Until these last 2 weeks.

It's like my eyes have been opened, and I've been looking at my quizzes differently. My Tuesday quiz at the Ship Inn is great but has its faults. The questions are too difficult, and the specialist subject rounds flat out unanswerable to a large extent. I'm no longer going to let the latter affect me, because it's immaterial to anything. The difficult GK questions? That's an aspiration, to be able to answer those, even the hardest of them. At that quiz, it often just won't be possible, but now, I really don't mind. As to the pictures and music, my big weaknesses there? I'm looking at ways to improve on music, and the pictures again are immaterial.

The Granary, my Wednesday quiz, is another good example to use. I do that quiz with usually one other person, but with no offence intended, I'm much the stronger of the two as a quizzer, so I'm doing a lot of the heavy lifting, particularly in certain subjects. I've never minded this, especially as it feels to some extent like a strong solo performance that I can feel good about when we do well. But this isn't the point, the point is that it's a tough quiz with varied subjects, and again I've been too self-critical when doing badly, instead of being inspired to do more.


That's what this post is about, that's what QuizFest did for me. I felt less humble than I expected around my idols, to use that word again. I felt ready for the fight, to strive to get to their level and even beyond. I've got that determination. I've proven that. What can I do besides simply having determination?

Honestly, viewing things more positively is the single best thing I can do. Positivity creates positivity, in mindset, in performance, in results, in enjoyment. The ideas I've expressed above for more positive approaches to the Ship Inn and Granary quizzes aren't just theories, they were how I unintentionally responded to the quizzes this week. I've 2 weeks of roundups to write, and you'll see how I got on, but I hope you'll see positivity coming through.

Spoilers aren't an issue, I suppose, so I can say that I had the best week of my quizzing life in the New Forest, after missing that quiz on the Sunday. Great results. This week I couldn't replicate that, despite my confidence being sky high, but I didn't let that confidence become complacency and I retained a necessary sense of realism. That has meant that I don't feel like I've "crashed" - I'm still riding high, and that confidence is still there, amazingly!

Realisation: Positive thinking isn't enough; actual hard work is required, and words are just platitudes without that.

Yeah, it's really easy to say all this, and God knows I've done so often enough before. I've also spoken, at length even, about the hard work required. Even tonight I've demonstrated how flawed my mindset is and how averse to hard work I am. I've also made clear that locking myself in a library alone isn't for me.

I do, however, need to put in that graft. I need to become more regimented about my learning, more formal, more efficient and effective. If this means not doing as many actual quizzes for the sake of that, then so be it. Less is more, and it would be better if I did better in a few quizzes than did one every night of the week but badly because of no study or sleep time.

I need to find a balance there. I'm moving house soon, and I'm hoping that once I do so, things will settle and I'll be able to organise my time in such a way as to facilitate the extra work I need to do. I also need to ensure I do so in ways that are genuinely enjoyable, so that I don't just abandon it or give it up straight away without accomplishing anything. A good start is worthless unless I can maintain it, by creating not only momentum but good, positive routines.

A new house won't in itself change anything, of course, if I simply behave as I have been behind new or different walls, so I need to be conscious to avoid that. I've fallen into that trap before, certainly.

Still, things do feel different as a result of all this. QuizFest isn't the only thing I've been up to recently that has inspired confidence in me, I must admit. I was a guest recently on a quizzing podcast called Trivial Warfare, with my episode due to be broadcast on 14th August. I'm giving nothing away and will write a post specifically about that, but it was my first competitive quiz outwith a pub quiz setting, and my first appearance in some form of media. It was tremendous fun, and incredibly empowering to get to demonstrate and indeed improve my knowledge, knowing that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people will listen. Those people will get to hear me, and about me, and they will be told about this blog. If you're reading this post because of Trivial Warfare, then hello! Hope I haven't scared you off with my rambling, ha ha!

So that's coming out soon, and I'm delighted. I want to do more things like that, too. I'd love to be on a TV gameshow, I'd love to travel out to competitions as well as just ordinary quizzes, much as I love those. I want it all.

Realisation: The world is my oyster. I'm still relatively young, and I have a bit of a talent for quizzing that I'm clearly attempting to nurture. If I put the work in, I may get to reap some rewards.

You know, I think that's a pretty good place to end this novella of a blog post. I think I've about said it all. Never in my life has my confidence been higher or my perspective more positive. I feel like a different person from the guy I was even 3/4 weeks ago. I'm a different quizzer - a better one. A better person too, ultimately, because I'm a lot nicer when I'm happy and confident.

There are so many people who deserve praise and thanks for that, but without wishing to sound self-absorbed, I know I deserve a decent bit of credit myself. This is my life and no one can or will live it for me. I don't want them to - I'm enjoying it too much to give it away!

Writing this post has been really helpful, I think. I've said a lot, not all of it easily, but most of it necessarily. Hiding things away hasn't helped me before, and won't going forward. I'm not going to pretend everything will be sunshine and roses, or that I won't slip into my old ways from time to time. Things will change, especially if I do indeed take on a more positive outlook over the longer term.

One thing is for sure: I'll be ready to meet that change head-on. And I'll never be alone. There are people who want to be around me, and that's because I deserve it and I've earned it. But I'll always be grateful for it, and I'll never take it for granted. So thank you all, it really does mean the world to me. I suppose my final words here will be one final "realisation" as I've put it throughout. After that, it's goodnight from me - but as I said, I've reviews to write so I'll be back putting ink to page in hopefully just a few hours!

Realisation: My name is Adam, or Addy if you prefer. I'm a quiz addict, but it doesn't control my life, I just happen to love it more than I do any other hobby. I may or may not become famous, but it doesn't matter if I do or don't, as long as I'm enjoying it. And so long as I am enjoying it, I'll be doing it. I'm glad there is no final destination, because the journey is so much fun. I'm flying high, with as much confidence as I've ever had in my life, and even now I'm eagerly awaiting my next opportunity to find out and show you what I've got at another quiz.

1 comment:

  1. We were so pleased you got everything you wanted out of Quuzfest. The first was always going to be experimental but we achieved what we set out to do - to celebrate the quizzing world with the very people that make it one of our popular pastimes. An honest appraisal from someone I am sure that one day will have his own table amongst the 'Gods' of the quizzing world.