Memories of Sixth Grade Gym Class

I am standing against the gym wall, one of only two girls who have not yet been chosen by a team.

Pick me.  Please pick me. Don’t let me be the last person picked. Please God.

I push my glasses up my nose, cross my arms in front of my flat chest, and let out a sigh.

Don’t cry if they don’t pick you.  Do. Not. Cry.

But the tears are already stinging my corneas, threatening to escape in an emotional avalanche of frustration, insecurity, and sadness.

“We’ll take Christie,” one of the team captains says.

My heart leaps.  Oh, thank God, I was not last.

But wait, I was second to last.  Twenty-some other girls were chosen for a volleyball team in our sixth grade gym class before me.  The tears spring up again, threatening to release themselves and splatter down the front of my white ringer gym tee.

I don’t even like volleyball, I think.  In fact, I hate volleyball.  I hate the way the ball stings my forearms when I try to bump (or is it set?) the ball back across the net.  I hate the way I never seem to jump high enough to volley the ball back over when I am playing the net.  I hate the way the ball springs back from the net every time it is my turn to serve, reminding everyone why I was chosen second-to-last.

Sadly, at the age of thirty-four, the lack of approval and acceptance from others can still stir up the same wellspring of inadequacy, inferiority and self-doubt as it did at the age of twelve.  When a blog post I had entered in an online competition was ranked second-to-last among the entries, that same pit grew in my stomach and those same tears threatened to release themselves.

Why do I care?  Why does the approval of others still mean so much to me, particularly when writing is intended to be a personal, creative outlet that brings joy, not frustration?  If writing is an expression of me as I pour my heart, soul, and mind into each piece and readers don’t like my writing, does that mean that they don’t like me?

Competition often has a way of turning into its ugly alter-ego of judgment and self-doubt for me, as I’m sure it does for many others.  How often do we compare our physical appearances to those of others?  How often do we value ourselves based on our income bracket and whether or not we are keeping up with the Joneses?  How often do we get caught up in the popularity contests of social media, seeking more Facebook friends and Twitter followers for the sake of increasing the number rather than increasing the valuable connections that can be facilitated through social media?

Competition can be a useful tool in many respects.  Competition rewards hard work and encourages high-quality efforts.  Competition fosters self-awareness of our strengths and weaknesses.  Competition cultivates accountability and responsibility.

But when we are competitive with those subjective facets of our lives – personality traits, values, priorities, creative outlets, artistic skills – excessive competition can be particularly damaging.  It is at these times when we must step back, refocus ourselves on our priorities, and remind ourselves of our inherent self-worth.

After a brief rendezvous with feelings of self-doubt, weakness, and inadequacy, I reminded myself of my reasons that I write on my blog in the first place – to create a forum for the discussion of thought-provoking social issues, hone my writing skills, establish a platform for a hope-to-be-published book, and (most importantly) satisfy the creative side of myself that thrives on writing.

You see, unlike those dreaded volleyball games in that middle school gym class, I absolutely love writing.  My reasons for writing cannot be to gain the most “votes” in an online writing competition, garner the most Facebook shares and likes, or acquire the most Twitter followers.  Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a post go viral or to amass a throng of committed readers, but if these goals become my priorities, my writing will suffer and I will suffer.

Instead, I must continue to remind myself that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  And inferiority is something to which I will not consent.

 

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22 Comments

  • Great post! I think the self-doubt and need for approval is especially strong in creative endeavors. Guess that’s why there’s the stereotype about artists being so insecure. It’s funny you can feel so secure in most aspects of your life but then you put something so utterly raw out into the world, something that reveals so much about you, it’s hard not to want the reinforcement that what you’ve done and who you are is okay.
    I do think you are so completely right that you have to do it for yourself and be true to yourself or what you put into the world will never come back to you in a good way.
    And if the competition you entered was judged by getting the most likes vs. by someone who knows writing and talent then all it is is a shallow popularity contest, much like the picking of teams back in grade school.
    Believe me, I’ve been so upset about competitions I’ve entered too not getting the most votes, etc. But at the end of the day if you were true to yourself and put everything you had into a submission then you succeeded. With time you will most certainly gain the rewards that go along with all your hard work.

  • Of course you care! That’s a terrible experience that hurts more than anyone knows. I was also that inferior 12-year-old that none wanted in the team, and everything that came along with it, and I’m living with it every day, trying to be good enough. Sadly it’s hard to get rid of that feeling and it becomes something that shadows you.
    Good point trying to focus why we’re doing things… and I also need to rethink of that in regards to my blog.

  • Unfortunately I always one of the last to be selected in gym class. Although this can still occur, for example with job intervies when the second best isn’t selected, writing/blogging doesn’t fall into this. No matter if one or 100 people read your article, the personnel satisfaction associated with a post is unmeasurable.

  • Uggh, middle school! Kids can be so mean, right at one of the most awkward and emotional times of life! I do the self doubt thing sometimes, but then I stop when I realize that I am living the life that I want to live. If people don’t like me, I really don’t care, because I like who I am. It’s nice not to be 12 anymore!

  • I love that quote. Its one I have posted in several places my daily life takes me. Its easy (at least for me) to get caught up in comparing myself but and hard sometimes to remember that I may be comparing the beginning of my journey to the end of someone else’s, or I am comparing my fresh out of bed wacky hair to the clean polished OUTSIDE Perfect 10 of someone else who has already spent hours and thousands making herself “appear” that way.

    We are human. Its going to happen. I love that you are taking control of it though and not consenting!

  • That quote is one of my favorites! I have it peppered through out areas my daily life takes me. It is easy (for me anyway) to get caught up in compairing myself and hard to remember sometimes that I am comparing the beginning of my journey to the end of someone else’s journey or that I am comparing my inner fresh out of bed wacky hair to another’s totally polished posh outter.

    We are human. It happens that we compare. What we choose to do with it makes all the difference.

  • Wow, did I write this in my sleep? I was always the last one picked.. always. and now i’m 35 and still need other people’s approval. I also use writing as an outlet for a lot of things. It’s hard not to compare yourself to other people and everyone wants to be liked and accepted… well, most people do. Many people who say they don’t care, usually do deep down.

  • I was that last girl. 🙂
    You’ve hit a real tender point for so many of us writers:
    Am I good enough? She writes better than me. She’s got more followers. Maybe if I was just like her.

    I follow Lisa-Jo over at thegypsymama.com. She has written beautifully about why we write and insist on comparing ourselves to others, and always beat ourselves up for not measuring up.
    She had said that, paraphrasing here, we need to write for who is at the table, even if it is only one, even if we can’t see them. We write because we are compelled, because it will be meaningful for someone, even if it is only the one.

    Write your heart out, girl. You have wonderfulness to share!

    • Thank you for sharing that. It does seem that this issue shows up in many posts lately. Social media is a great thing, but it also creates one more way that we are evaluated and deem ourselves incapable of “measuring up.” It helps to think of it for what it is – a tool – and not an indicator of talent.

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