Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thoughts on Contests

So for the past few months, a good friend has been working on an architectural project for a contest.  It gets judged on Monday, and I’m resisting the urge to chew on my fingernails.

As I’ve mentioned before, I find contests somewhat nerve-wracking.  I’ve submitted a novel to one, short stories to four, and poems to one.  Each time, I’ve spent the entire time before the judging wondering whether I should feel excited or doubtful.  The complicated thing about contests is not so much the submitting or the announcement of winners.  Instead it’s the achievement of emotional balance.

My art never had much luck in contests...
I think, actually, that there are lots of situations which have the same effect on us that contests do, so if you can discover a way to remain balanced, it will serve you in good stead during much of your life!  For example, waiting for news about a potential job is certainly analogous to a contest.  Even our relationships with family and friends sometimes make us face times when we have to wait for good news or bad, but have to remain calm anyway. 

Anyway, the reason I struggle with contests and other similar situations is that I have an overdose of confidence in my personality.  My automatic inclination is to suppose that my work must be supremely excellent and of course any sane judge will throw ribbons and prizes at it. 

I remember quite clearly the first contest I lost (I have a good memory).  I was ten, and I’d submitted a drawing of a single running horse against a couple of green hills.  One of the other would-be artists, on the other hand, had truly godly talents – she was also sixteen, which gave her quite an advantage, of course. Having little knowledge at the time of what can be done with graphite on paper, I rashly supposed she must have cheated somehow; no one could be that good! 

Of course I was wrong, and she won, and I spent an hour after the results were announced weeping while my kind father tried to explain that not everyone gets to win every time.  The problem is that besides being over-confident, I also can be quite touchy.  I don’t like to be insulted or passed over.  For the rest of my childhood, whenever I lost yet another contest, I had  to go hide in the bathroom until I had overcome the impulse to cry like a baby. 

I do still feel like this after bad news, though!
I’m proud to say that I no longer spontaneously burst into tears when someone tells me I've lost.  On other hand, I still find contests, and in general waiting for any verdict, very taxing.  I think everyone must, unless they submit to so many contests at once that they can’t even remember what they're doing.  The other thing, too, is that I feel almost as involved in my friends’ contests and such-like situations, and my emotions end up rather tattered around the edges. 

So how to approach these things? 

Well, I was thinking recently that there are two ways most people wait for fateful news.  On the one hand, they suppose everything will be perfect.  If it is, they are elated; if it isn’t, they are crushed.  On the other hand, some suppose they will never win.  Then if they do win, they are excited and surprised.  However, if they don’t win, they are still secretly crushed.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t ever quite convince ourselves we won’t win, after all. 

Victory: battered, but doing her best!
So in fact, I’m beginning to think that the optimist’s path might be the one that allows us to survive these situations.  I know that we are always told not to get our hopes up, and to be realistic – and I do agree with this advice to a certain extent.  However, I also think that forcing yourself to downplay the quality of your own work in an effort to avoid disappointment can actually backfire.  After all, if you tell yourself that you’re not worth it… isn't the danger that you’ll end up not being worth it?  That’s a sad fate for anyone. 

The other factor is that working so hard on pushing down the natural desire to win is actually incredibly exhausting.  I wonder if it might be less overwhelming in the long run to let yourself feel excited about the prospect of good news, of victory.  If it does come, well and good.  If it doesn’t, you can get out the disappointment in one burst, rather than stretching it out in anticipation.  Does that make sense?

Anyway, I’ve not myself submitted to a contest in a while, but I may in the next few months, so I figured I might as well share my thoughts.  Also, since I’m hoping my friend will sweep the competition, I’ve had the issue on my mind, wondering if I should feel confident that he’ll win, or refuse to let myself hope in case he and I both end up disappointed.  I’ve decided that no matter what happens, his work should win, because it’s awesome.  

1 comment:

  1. Contests are in the hands of fickle judges. I volunteered once to judge children's creative responses to challenges that had to be presented in a skit form. Once was enough. It's not easy being a judge because you have to score marks while a thing is happening and whatever you see first is the point at which you compare all else that follows. I don't see how editors can be impartial. Just looking at the content, grammar, etc. But if you know what you are doing... it isn't like sports where there are rules and if you don't follow them you get a penalty and there are generally clear victors and losers.

    Perhaps I don't enter contests because I just don't want strangers to judge me. I'm more or less (I suppose more) of an optimist. But still it is my creation, my 'baby' on the line. And I don't want someone else sucking the life breath out of my 'creation'.

    With all that said, to your friend, and to you and anyone else entering contests; if you did your best then be happy with that. And just keep doing what you love. Cheers.