February 23, 2018

If Life is a Contest, I'm Changing the Rules

I've been doing Girls Inc mentoring since the fall. Each week for one hour, I spend time with a group of  9- and 10-year old girls at an elementary school in my neighborhood.

Mostly we do art projects or some other type of crafts. We meet in one of the school classrooms and we're limited on space and time, so our activities aren't anything too extensive or messy. A lot of paper crafts and drawing and coloring.

Last week we were drawing and making posters with magic markers and puffy dog & cat stickers, as 9 and 10 year old girls do.

I try to comment about everyone's projects and tell them what a great job they're doing. I think back to how much it meant to me when one of my teachers made a big fuss over something I made or did in class. I try to find some kind of unique element in each of their artworks to draw attention to and make them feel good about.

Last week somebody in the group said that somebody else's drawing was better than hers. I said, "It's not a contest. Plus yours is really great." Another of the girls, who strikes me as something of a cynic (just for the record) said, "Oh, it's ALWAYS a contest." And she was definitely referring to more than just an art project.

Something about the way she said it made me feel like she had known this for a long time. And she pitied me for not being in on the secret.

This got me thinking. First off, it made me sad that a 9- or 10-year old girl would have this philosophy about life. That there are always winners and losers.

As a 35 year old girl, I definitely feel like it's a contest but I don't think I felt that way at their age. Maybe I'm just remembering it wrong. For some reason, I thought it was the world and all its screwed up messages that had somehow led me to believe this at this point in my life.

Maybe I've always adhered to this belief system. I didn't try to argue with her or tell her it's not a contest. I just started thinking about it a little bit.

So what if life is a contest. What are we competing for? And in what categories are we competing against each other?

Prettiest? Skinniest? Most successful? Nicest house? Fanciest car? Biggest bank account? I'm sure there are plenty more, but these come to mind first.

Maybe if we rethink the contest itself we can have a healthier, better perspective on how we relate to each other and how we view ourselves.

What if the categories include things like "How kind was I?" "Did I take advantage of every opportunity that came my way?" "Was I willing to go the extra mile for people who needed a little bit of help?"

What if we're actually not competing with each other at all but really we're competing with ourselves? Those other versions of ourselves that try to creep in and sabotage our progress. The ones who want to lie to us and tell us that we're not good enough...that we'll never be good enough...that we really can't do it and we might as well just give up now.

It would be easy to blame the world for this and all these crappy messages but on some level, we still get to decide what comes in and out of our own minds. We can build a wall like a strong fortress that keeps those lies out. And we don't have to do it alone. With a support system of faith, friends, family, and personal cheerleaders it is possible to build a foundation of Truth and positive hooplah in our hearts.

Have you been watching the Olympics? I have to admit I haven't, but I know that each athlete competing didn't get there overnight. Just like anything else we want to be good at, it takes practice.

Keeping our negative thinking in check takes practice. Celebrating our accomplishments instead of ripping ourselves apart takes practice.

Whether you believe life is a contest or not, at some point we will all end up at the end. I have to believe we won't care so much about winning and losing when we're taking our last breaths. But hopefully if we have won the race in the ways that it matters we will experience a feeling of accomplishment, and much more important than that, a peace unlike any we could have known otherwise.