When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher made us write a story set in medieval times. Our whole grade was doing an interdisciplinary unit on the Middle Ages, with the math classes drawing up plans for medieval churches, the social studies classes talking about the Black Plague, and elections being held for King, Queen, and Court Jester. In English class, we spent weeks developing our stories–from drawing what our characters would look like to making a checklist of which Middle Ages paraphernalia we wanted to include (i.e. wizards, royalty, peasants).
My story was about a princess who was about to be married to a dreadful, fat, old king. The princess ran away and eventually ended up in the forest, where she met an old wizard. They chatted a bit (I can’t really remember what happened) and as it turns out, the wizard was the princess’s long-lost father. I don’t really remember how the story was resolved, but I’m sure it was Happily Ever After.
I turned in my story in a folder, along with the drawings of my characters, the checklists, and the rough drafts. A week later, when the teacher returned our papers, I opened my folder and saw a post-it note on the front of my story. It said, “Do you want to submit this to a writing competition?”
I never responded.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I took Spanish 2. After taking Spanish 1 from a kindergarten teacher who spoke no Spanish and made us glue yarn to construction paper and watch Selena every class, our entire grade was significantly behind where we should have been for Spanish 2. Thankfully, we had a new teacher for Spanish 2, and she actually knew Spanish (weird, huh?).
When the teacher returned our first tests, I saw that I had done well. I flipped through the pages to see what I had missed, and I noticed a note at the bottom of the last page: “Do you want to join Academic Quiz Bowl?”
I never responded to her, either.
I think it would be easy at this point in my life to look back and say, “Oh I was dealing with middle school self-esteem issues, I was nervous about being seen as smart, blah blah blah,” but in reality, I don’t think it was any of those things that made me not submit my story to the contest or join Quiz Bowl. It was that I just didn’t want to. My story sucked. It was a lame compilation of ripped-off story lines from every cliche fairy tale with a thick streak of the 1990’s Disney movie emphasis on strong female characters. My characters and plotline were completely unoriginal; it was only the fact that I could write well for my age that made my teacher think it was good. But it wasn’t.
And as for Quiz Bowl, it’s not that I didn’t want to be seen as smart. That cat was let out of the bag when they started taking us out of reading class so we could go to “QUEST.” Yep, that ship sailed a long time ago. I didn’t have anything against Quiz Bowl, and some of my dearest friends were on the team, but I personally just didn’t see myself doing it. That’s all.
So, in all, I wouldn’t consider these particular instances missed opportunities. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve been more aware of those opportunities in my life that I didn’t take advantage of, and that I might possibly regret. This perspective has influenced me to do things that I might have talked myself out of otherwise, study abroad being a big example. It has also influenced me to focus more on what I love, and that is writing. In order to take advantage of all the opportunities presented to me, my (belated) New Years Resolution is to win something from my writing or have something published. It doesn’t matter where, as long as it’s not on this blog.
A week ago, my professor handed me a piece of paper. It was an application for an Undergraduate Excellence in Jewish Studies Award from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She said that when she saw the information about the award, she immediately thought of me and a paper I wrote for her class on Judaism. She asked if I would be interested in submitting my paper and possibly winning $250.
This time, I responded–yes.