My 9-year old daughter recently competed in a Spelling Bee at her school. While I watched from the audience, it dawned on me that the Spelling Bee contained some critical lessons to success and happiness in life. The first thing I noticed as the Spelling Bee began was that, just like life, —
It’s so easy…at first.
I’m not going to lie: the first round of the Spelling Bee was so boring that I prayed a meteorite would come crashing through the ceiling to liven things up a bit.
Dog. Used in a sentence: Sally patted the small, furry DOG, the moderator monotoned.
But then, just like in real life, the Spelling Bee got harder. And harder. And harder.
As Round 2 moved uneventfully into Round 3, the words were complicated enough that I needed to trace the letters in the air as I tried to spell them.
The words in Round 4 made me wave my hands in the air like an Italian mime. I had a couple of close calls in the round, and I felt a little sweat bead on my upper lip as Round 5 began.
Satire, the pronouncer punctuated.
I spelled the word in my head and in the air. Or, I should say, I misspelled the word while wondering why 4th graders would be learning about mythological goat-men known for riotous, lascivious living. Apparently, satire is not spelled the same — nor does it mean the same — as satyr.
I didn’t last five rounds, I chided myself in disbelief.
But even though the “competition” was over for me, I knew that somewhere in this moment was a lesson I needed to relearn.
Life starts off easy.
You cry, and someone feeds you. You’re wet, and someone changes you. You smile, and someone smiles back. When you’re tired, someone puts you to bed. If you belch or toot, everyone laughs, and no one calls you “disgusting.” You start to crawl, and everyone encourages you to stand. You stand, and people cheer and hold out their hands for you to walk. And when you fall down, someone quickly picks you up and dries your tears.
But pretty soon, you’re expected to do more and more — and with less and less encouragement.
Life is so easy. At first. But then it changes.
All of the things you learned at a leisurely pace in early life were simple and reinforcing. In fact, it didn’t even seem like learning as much as playing or maybe imitating others in order to receive some sort of recognition like a smile, a cheer, or a pat on the back. And almost everything you tried to do, you did well.
Why else would your mother hang your drawings on the refrigerator unless you were an artist? Would your mom have asked you to sing her a song if you didn’t have the voice of an angel? And do you really think they just hand out Certificates of Participation if all you did was participate?
Savor the easy times.
Had I known that a word in Round 5 would eliminate me, I would have done a fist-pump when I spelled A-P-P-L-E correctly instead of making a smug face, and I would have tried to slow the clock instead of wishing it away.
In the parking lot after the Spelling Bee, I wrote down some notes to live by. “I want to — ”
- Remind myself to savor the now.
- Relish the ease in which I can spell the word F-U-N while also living like I’m actually experiencing a little of it, too.
- Reward myself after reaching each milestone in life with the same excitement I would as if I had just completed Round 5 at the Bee and were now passing into Round 6.
- Resist the tendency to make celebrations in my life smaller when, ironically, expectations get bigger.
- Help others to recognize and savor their own victories.
- Stay an artist forever, even though I can’t draw within the lines.
- Sing loudly even if doing so makes dogs in three counties howl.
- Treat each day as a new Spelling Bee where I have a chance to start over.
- Listen and learn from other participants, because very soon it will be my turn again.
- Jump up and down when I get something right.
- Wave at my friends and family, and let their encouragement feed my heart and fill my soul.
Tomorrow, The Benefits of Losing…