Break out the bubbly ~ It’s time for celebration! I did it! I entered my very first writing contest. Although, it’ll be several weeks before I know if I officially won anything (stay tuned – announcements posted here first!), I know it’s already a success – but not for the reasons you might guess I’m going to share.
I could easily make a post that the reason this entry was a success was because I found a piece of courage I didn’t know I possessed, or maybe because I overcame a fear, or perhaps because I went out on a limb, or some other super-cheesy, somewhat lame reason. While all of those reasons are true, that’s not what this post is about. It’s about finding truth, and therefore help, in unexpected places – in the face of perfect strangers. Strangers that have zero benefit in helping me. Strangers that only help because they’ve been there before and received help from somewhere equally surprising as I did tonight.
I guess this is similar to the Pay-It-Forward phenomena we see this time of year in the form of paying for the Starbucks order behind you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have your order paid for by another and then to turn around and pay for the order behind you. That’s lovely. But ultimately, who does that benefit? It could be argued that one person benefited, the final person in the 3 hour record-setting pay-for-the-order-behind-me trend. We won’t go into the potential selfish-ness of the final person that didn’t pay for the next order – I could actually make an argument towards honesty for that last person not to be swept into a charitable deed just because. But is that enough? Is that enough for all the effort, time, and money spent in creating, perpetuating, publicizing, reading, sharing, etc that story – that it benefited ONE PERSON? ONE. PERSON. One.
I’m off track, let’s get back to me (yes, that’s selfish but this is my blog). So tonight I attended my second meeting of a local writing group. This writing group is made up of all kinds of writers – some published, some published very successfully, some still hoping to get published, and many – like me – just exploring the group. This group is an eclectic group in age, experience, background, genre, etc. All the things that make us different. This group hosts an annual writing contest, called a Flash Fiction. There are minimum standards for each entry, the most interesting standard is that each entry MUST start with the same 5 words – She clung to the edge.
When I came home from my first meeting a month ago, I started forming the ideas of how I would finish those words. Finally I put pen to paper and created a little, newborn baby. This baby, like all newborns, I coddled and groomed and protected, knowing a day would soon come that I would expose my newborn to the world. Finally, this afternoon I felt prepared to submit my newborn baby to the judgement of the contest organizers. I printed my submission, being careful to follow all guidelines. I attached my entry fee check and paperclipped everything together with the same care a mother bathes her newborn.
Then the meeting started. There was a panel that, amongst other things, spoke to the difference in a good submission and a “needs work” submission. As the tips were spoken, I couldn’t help but view my newborn through the lens of these experts. With each tip they gave, I judged my newborn, I judged myself, I judged my excitement, and I judged my gift. Then the presentation was over and, despite my fierce judgement, I was called to submit my newborn – the very one I cruelly judged just minutes before. With severe trepidation, I submitted my creation then IMMEDIATELY put a disclaimer on it This is the first piece I’ve ever written.
Why? Why wasn’t I proud? Just last week I exposed my most vulnerable side for, literally, the entire world to see. But now I was recanting this exact vulnerability. Why? What was different? I’ll tell you what was different, faces were different.
From my living room, in my comfy clothes, I can type anything and feel safe. But when I’m standing face to face with others, literally handing my creation to them, it feels very unsafe. More unsafe than I could have ever imagined. But guess what? All those around me embraced me with support, honesty, and love as soon as I spoke the disclaimer. Their words formed a bubble around my self-judgement, insulating me and my newborn baby. With kindness, they shared their own stories about their first submission, their reservations then, their anxieties now. They were, in essence, what I needed them to be and the exact time I needed them to be it. And they gained nothing from it.
Yes, you could argue they gained a good feeling or it still only benefited one person. The key here is they were under no obligation to say anything perfect. To tie this back to the Starbucks example, the first person in the 3 hour record was selfless, the last person was selfish but all those between really meant very little other than to draw out time between the beginning and the end. So my question becomes, how am I unconditionally giving back? How am I benefiting a stranger? How can I show gratitude in an impactful way?
I don’t have those answers, but tonight I was reminded of what incredible good, truly impactful good, can come from selflessly giving to a stranger. I’m so thankful to be on this journey, and I’m so thankful you have read to the end! Thank you for joining me on this celebratory post. Check back soon (like next month!) for my contest results!