My father was once the president of the Optimist International Club. Yes, optimists have a club and yes, they’ve really gone international.
At the age of thirteen, I came home with a mountain of homework to do and plowed into it (this is because I was ugly, and unpopular, and didn’t really have anything else to do in my life EXCEPT homework). Halfway through the mountain, my dad called.
“I need you to write up a speech and be prepared to give that speech out loud in front of a panel of judges and several hundred other people who are part of my club. I’ll be picking you up in a little less than two hours. Oh, and Julie? You have to wear a dress.” (Okay, fine, he didn’t actually mention the hundreds of people. He left that part as a surprise.)
It seems many of my life altering moments involved being rushed into something before I could think it through well enough to protest, and me wearing a dress. So I wrote a five minute speech on this topic: “I think the best; I expect the best.”
I was thirteen (as I’ve already pointed out). Five minutes of positive thinking for any teenager is quite a stretch. It turns out, this little shin-dig Dad had me go to was a public speaking contest. Lots of kids were entered, and most of them were tutored by drama and public speaking coaches. The only public speaking I’d ever done was yelling at my brother in the grocery store. Why my father felt compelled to throw me in the mix at the last minute, I couldn’t really say. Drinking a quart of broken glass would have been more fun than standing in front of all those adults and those other kids with their drama coaches.
Of course, I didn’t win. And I actually had the gall to feel badly about not winning. I went with two hours preparation and a dress that didn’t fit (because I never wore dresses back then; my parents were hard pressed to get me to wear shoes), and I had the nerve to feel I should have placed higher than the people who went prepared.
And what might this little trip down memory lane mean? It means that so often we go into something less than prepared and then get ticked off when it doesn’t turn out the way we think it should.
I meet writers who finish their first novels and immediately begin submitting. And while I congratulate them for the fact that they actually finished a novel, and further congratulate them for having the fortitude it takes to submit, I wonder if they aren’t going into a contest less prepared than their competition.
Did those writers send their manuscripts out to critique groups? Did they receive the right coaching? Did they study up on how to make themselves stand out in the slushpile? Do they know the mechanics of writing? Are they passionate about their manuscript? What are their credentials? Did they even run a spell check before sending in the manuscript? And worse, those writers (me included back before I knew better) whine when they don’t walk home with a contract in hand.
The speech I wrote back then still resonates with me–especially when I’m about to turn in a new manuscript and wonder if I did everything I could do to make it the best it can be. But honestly . . . I think about it for more than just writing. I think about it with my calling, with my work, with my kids, and with my husband.
I think the best; I expect the best.
And something more to take away the prize: I gave my best.