I was eleven years old the first time I remember the consequences of living in a competitive world. Our minister of music announced a choir competition which would include instrumental solos. I was asked to play a hymn by memory in three variations. I had been playing the piano for four years. How difficult could this be?
No one told me there would be over 1,000 people there. The walk to the platform seemed a mile long. I had never played a grand piano and I felt I was being swallowed by this massive instrument! All went well until the congregation was ready to sing with me. I made a mistake on the introduction. Now, I realize very few people other than the judges had heard the misplayed chord. Now, I know the children on my row were not laughing at me. But at the time, I thought my world had ended. I had my first panic attack in front of all those people. I stood there gasping for air and fainted. Waves of embarrassment brought on the tears. It was months before I would sit at the piano.
The competitions in the classroom didn’t seem to bother me, because I had buried myself in my studies to compensate for lack of any skills in sports. When teams were chosen in PE, I was always last and then whichever team ended up with me, usually groaned or did a unison eye roll!
The summer before my senior year in high school, I was chosen to go to Girls’ State for Florida. Surprise! I walked into one of the most political and competitive events of my life. We were to run for state legislative offices, make speeches, write mock referendums and laws. The whole time I kept asking myself what I was doing there? I felt inferior to the other girls but I hid my panic attacks from them and managed to get through the week. Not too long ago I found the pictures of the event. I was flooded with memories…not all good. But I did remember the victory when I won an elected position and when one of my bills was “passed” into law. I wonder why those good memories were over-shadowed by my feeling of inferiority?
My mother thrived on competition. She did well speaking in front of large groups. I am thankful now that she pushed me to take leadership roles. During the last 40 years, I’ve been able to lead countless programs and plan large events. But I have to confess, I still have to fight the feeling of not being able to achieve…or measure up.
We live in a world where we are judged by how we perform, by how much we achieve, by how much acclaim we receive. To borrow the lyrics of “Bye Bye Birdie”, I learned to “pick out a pleasant outlook, stick out that noble chin; Wipe off that ‘full of doubt’ look, and slap on a happy grin! And spread sunshine all over the place. Just put on a happy face!”