Winning by default

When I was growing up, there was an annual baking contest for young people in our town. Year after year, I baked cookies and, full of hope, entered them in the contest. Year after year, I went home disappointed, as my cookies evidently didn’t particularly appeal to the judges.

Looking back on it, I can hardly blame them. At least in the early years, I baked according to my mother’s health-conscious standards, using whole wheat flour and raw sugar. The raw sugar probably didn’t hurt (whatever difference in taste it made was probably masked by the whole wheat), but whole wheat makes for crumbly cookies.

I don’t remember what kind of cookies I baked as I approached my teen years, though I remember that I liked baking – and eating – lemon drop cookies. But my cookies never won so much as an honorable mention. I thought how great it would be to win, and wondered what I could make that would get me a prize.

Finally, one year, I decided to make something completely different. By now I was doing the family shopping, and I found a recipe for cheesecake pie at the grocery store. I had no interest in healthy cooking; I wanted to make something delicious, and something that would win.

I proudly carried my cheesecake pie to the contest that year. I submitted my entry, and discovered with surprise that just about all the other contestants were younger children. As a matter of fact, there was only one entry in the Pie category for my age group (junior high). So I took home a blue ribbon, and a copy of Betty Crocker’s Parties for Children.

I was disappointed again, though not in the same way as previous years. Winning just didn’t mean much when I won by default. (Plus I had no interest in planning any parties for children, so the book just sat on my shelf for years until I finally gave it away.) And unlike previous years, there didn’t seem to be any point to trying again the next year.

I’ve been thinking about that the last couple of days, since I found out that I was going to win the Toastmasters area speech contest today. The area governor for the organization visited our club meeting a few weeks ago, and asked if anyone had done enough speeches to qualify for competitions. I was only one speech away from qualifying, so I did my sixth speech the following week. I wasn’t exactly eager to compete, but I figured I might as well leave my options open.

When I told my husband about the upcoming contest, he encouraged me to participate. So I let the area governor know I was interested, and he signed me up for today’s contest. I worked on one speech idea for a few days (see my recent post on a language without numbers). I decided it wasn’t working. so I started over with an adaptation of my post from a few weeks ago, “Are you smarter than a pigeon?”

Then two days ago, the area governor let me know that I was the only person signed up from our area in the prepared speech category (it was a joint contest for two areas, and for both prepared speeches and “table topics”). That meant that unless I disqualified myself by not sticking to the time limit, I would win.

Since giving a speech is more difficult (at least for me) than baking dessert, I was relieved rather than disappointed. I joined Toastmasters to improve my communication skills, not to win prizes. If I could give a speech in an unfamiliar setting (instead of in a company conference room to a group of co-workers), and focus on the speech itself instead of what the judges were going to think of it, that seemed like a good thing.

I still ended up feeling nervous. I didn’t mind winning by default after giving a good speech, but I wouldn’t want to win by default if I gave a poor speech. But I had practiced quite a bit, at least compared to any of my previous speeches, and it seemed to go well. At least both other contestants and the judges told me, afterward, that I did well, especially considering it was my first competition.

(Now, though, I have to prepare for the division competition in May. I don’t know how many areas there are in the division, but it will certainly include the other area represented at today’s contest. The winner from that area is a very skilled speaker, so I’ll be competing for the experience of doing so, not for any chance of winning.)

The first place certificate from this afternoon doesn’t mean much. But there’s a definite feeling of accomplishment simply from having given a good speech.

One Response to Winning by default

  1. modestypress says:

    We are much alike, but in this regard you are more like my wife.

    First, she is an excellent baker, and strives to create items that are both very tasty and very nutritious. She sells them at the farmer’s market and would absolutely refuse to enter them into a competition.

    I think in your public speaking, you are striving to accomplish something that is difficult for your to do, and “winning” or “losing” in a competition is less important than your success in being able to compete and do a good job.

    Good for you, in regard to your baking, your speaking, and your blogging.

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