The other day I was notified that one of my wall hangings had been juried into an upcoming exhibition. Since I had tried in the past to have my pieces juried into shows put on by this gallery, I was delighted. After several failures, I exulted, success!
Success means a great deal to all of us and failure to reach a goal can be devastating. Such is the emphasis placed on winning that being Number One becomes all important. “Nobody bothers to ask who was in second place,” we are told, or even “Only the lead sled dog sees anything worth looking at.” Whether we are aiming for a prize or a promotion or being the winner on Dancing With the Stars, we want the prize, the brass ring, the gold at rainbow’s end!
I surely felt that way years ago when my essay got a mere ‘honorable mention’ in a high writing school competition. That was just wrong. Even back then, writing was terribly important, the thing that most defined me. I had put a lot of my heart into the essay, had polished it till it shone. Also, I didn’t much care for the person who had waltzed off with the first prize, and his essay was… well, it wasn’t very good. I was crushed.
My entire family commiserated in various ways. My mother took me shopping. Dad dragged me off on a long walk. Uncle Joe baked my favorite pie. Aunt Juliette decided I needed to do another needlework project. Aunt Francine let me take home some of her prize roses. And as usual, Uncle Harry quoted his favorite Kipling line about ‘meeting Triumph and Disaster just the same.’
But while I appreciated their kindness and love, my ego remained bruised. Thinking that my English teacher would at least say something helpful, I confided my sorrows to him. He heard me out and then asked, “Did you do your best?” I assured him that I had. “Well, then,” he said. Well then, what? “Not everybody can win all the time,” he said, mildly. “You’ll be doing a great deal more writing. I know,” he added, “because you have an almost frightening imagination. If you always do your best, the writing will grow with you. Just try not to compete with anybody but yourself.”
Back then that sounded like pretty weak stuff, and slow learner that I am, it has taken years of trial and error to understand the wisdom of it. The real prize, he was trying to say, is in the doing.
It’s true. If I put heart and soul into something I create or imagine, something in my work is enriched. And though I love to succeed and would like to slide into that #1 slot every time, I have come to understand that personal growth is the only yardstick with which to measures true success.
Success is fleeting
But the love that shines in work
Lives on forever.