Yesterday was a particularly crappy day for you, I know. You missed out on meeting Peter Davison and you found out that you didn’t get Colour Captain for your House. On the back of not getting Vice or School Captain last week, I know that it stings.
It stings for me too. Because I feel like I stuffed up with Peter Davison. “If only we had gotten there sooner”, I tell myself. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
And it stings that you didn’t get a leadership role because there’s not much I can do about that. I just have to let you go out there on your own and weather the good stuff and the bad. If you ever become a parent, you’ll realize that it’s one of the most rewarding and heart-wrenching things a parent can do. But this letter isn’t about my personal growth; it’s about yours.
Life sucks sometimes. Sometimes things just don’t make sense. But as Dad said last week, success is failing more times than other people even try. Or as my friend Lachy said, it’s getting back up the same amount you’ve been knocked down.
When your feelings are raw it’s hard to appreciate what Dad and Lachy have both said. But as time passes you’ll see they are right.
I know you feel like you haven’t had any ‘wins’. Trust me I get that. I always got ‘second place’. I was never the absolute best at anything I ever did. I was pretty good but there was always someone better than me. It took a while for me to realize that actually hanging out with smarter people than me, better sports people than me, better musicians than me actually made me better.
Not because of the competitive nature that is sometimes imposed on us, but because I could learn from these people. And you know what, coming in second isn’t a failure.
Now I have the life experience and can tell you that any “successes or failures” in primary school don’t count for much when you get older. High school is so much better than primary school. Uni is so much better than high school. Working is so much better than uni. And all of that amounts to life experience that makes you who you are.
But you’re only ten years old so primary school is all you know at the moment. It is your whole world right now so it is important to you, and I acknowledge that, but take a deep breathe and carry on because this too shall pass. Nothing is final; this isn’t the final test to show your worth.
And remember another person’s ‘win’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you ‘failed’. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Who you are is what counts. As my friend Allison said, “You don’t need a badge to be a good leader”. You don’t need a badge to be charitable; you don’t need a badge to help someone; you don’t need a badge to express an opinion and have it heard; you don’t need a badge to be inspirational. You don’t need a badge to be gracious.
I get it though; we all like validation. We all like to be recognized and the feeling that comes along with it. Truth is that never goes away. But as you mature, you learn to manage those feelings.
You will have a ‘win’ one day Alex. Just like those people who always seemingly ‘win’, they too will one day fail. That’s how it is. No matter who you are, you will win some and lose some. You’ve heard that saying before right?
What is key though is when you ‘fail’ to achieve something, always ask why. Ask your teacher, principal, coach, even me when something doesn’t go your way. Politely, of course.
I sometimes have editors tell me that my story ideas are not good enough; or that my writing needs to be improved.
My confidence takes a hit and even though I’m scared of what I’ll hear, I have to ask how can I make it better? What exactly is it they are looking for? What mistakes did I make?
And after I gorge on some comfort food to soothe my soul, I take that information and apply it next time I write. And if I get another rejection, I ask the same questions again.
What seems like a ‘fail’ can actually be a ‘win’ when you know that to do with it. Failing makes you sit back and think, really think. And in what seems like a perverse sense of accomplishment, this is what champions are made out of.
When you finally get a few ‘wins’ under your belt Alex, the ‘fails’ will be a little easier to take. Because not only do you know that you have what it takes to ‘win’ you also know how to handle ‘fails’.
Having said all this, you already have ‘wins’. You have an impressive brain in that head of yours and your ability to just pick up the drumsticks and play is bloody impressive. Just to pick up an instrument and play? That’s a talent I never had when I was learning to play piano and frankly never will, but I’m happy to work hard because I learned something about myself; I have the commitment to see things through.
So when you look at it, having natural ability or an exceptional work ethic are both wins.
Remember how much you improved at soccer last year? That was you working hard to become a better player. Be proud of that. You still might not be the best player, but you are better than where you were a year ago.
And the person you should measure yourself against isn’t the kid that sits next to you in class or the kid in your team; the person you should always be competing against is you.
People come and go in your life but you are stuck with you forever. Don’t judge your achievements against what others have done. Judge your achievements against what you have done.
You made ten mistakes in that song you were playing yesterday? Today you’ll make no more than five. See how that works?
And one final thing, people always say that you should work to your strengths. I agree with that to a point. Working to your strengths is kind of easy and satisfying. But you can’t ignore your weaknesses. Work out what your weaknesses are and work on how you can use them to complement your strengths.
You are on your way to being a great adult Alex and that’s when you are going to need a bag full of tricks to manage life. Think of it this way, your bag of tricks is already half full.