When I was in 8th grade, I auditioned for the Waynesville Junior High Softball team. Despite my failure to make the volleyball team, I thought I was ready for this try-out. I had played city league softball for 5 years or so, and I wasn’t the worse player out there. I could hit well, and I could field a ball. Running, well, I didn’t have to run much anyway.
And I’d watched Jennifer Parton play – she was the most amazing softball player I’d ever seen. With a windmill pitch at age 9, and the ability to hit like a machine. I wanted to be her.
So I tried out, and I made the first cut. But then, when the list was posted in the hallway, I wasn’t on it. I was junior high devastated.
I’m sure I went home and told my parents. I’m sure they consoled me – they always did. But I don’t remember that. What I do remember is this – my father said, “Well, Andi, that’s hard, but those girls must have been better softball players than you.”
I didn’t want to hear that, of course. I wanted to pretend that someone how my name had gotten switched with Anna Boone’s name and that the coach meant to cut her. But my parents would have none of that – I wasn’t good enough; it was that simple.
See, my parents recognized something about me that I wasn’t ready to see yet – I am not an athlete. Sure, I am strong, and I’m not a total klutz – but the dexterity and fitness required of athletes has never been my priority. Reading books and knowing facts has.
So when I didn’t make the team, my parents just quietly let me know that there were things I was better at, things where I should probably put my time. And they let me fail – no pretending, no blaming the coaches, no falsehoods meant to bolster my self-esteem. My parents believed in accountability and responsibility, and they taught me that lesson well.
Could I have been a really good softball player? Sure. If I had practiced for several hours a day as Jennifer Parton surely did and if I was willing to give up other things – like reading 3-4 books a week. My parents taught me that I could do anything I wanted, but they also taught me that I had to work for what I wanted. AND they taught me that sometimes all the work in the world would not get me my greatest desires. They raised me well.
And here’s what their parenting and the friendships of strong people have taught me:
- I should try anything; I shouldn’t fear failure or rejection or embarrassment because I will recover from those things – the only thing I can’t recover from is from doing nothing.
- But I will not succeed in everything, and I should not expect to do so. Success comes from a smidgen of talent mixed with a whole hell of a lot of hard work. If I’m not willing to do the work, I can’t expect the success. No number of “I’m a winner” trophies” or manipulations of blame make up for the success that comes with effort.
- And I will not always get what I want no matter how hard I work. That is the reality of living in a broken, busted-up world. Not everyone is a winner at everything, and wouldn’t it be boring if we were?
These lessons have proved invaluable to me as a writer. It’s never easy to have my work rejected, but I know that I will survive those letters and emails. Plus, when I get a positive response – and I’ve had two hopeful possibilities this week – I can trust them because I’ve earned them. And that feeling doesn’t fade easily.
A few years after my junior high softball team failure, I joined the team at my new high school during the first year that they had an actual competing team. We were terrible, but I loved to play – so I played. Jenny and Penny Russell replaced Jennifer Parton as my softball superheroes, and sometimes I got to take the field. It was fun.
At the end of the season, we had an awards night for athletics, and our coaches gave us trophies and records and announced All-District and All-State honorees. The softball coaches gave every girl on the team an award – an well-meaning attempt to be fair – and I received the Smiling Bench Warmer award. I walked to the front of the cafeteria and took the award with a forced smile. I knew the lie – this wasn’t an award deserved; it was one created, and it did nothing but, honestly, embarrass me a little, despite the coaches’ kind hearts.
But even that was okay because earlier in the season, on a day when everyone on the team seemed tired, the coaches had us run extra laps – trying to get our stamina up a bit. I was the only player who ran the whole time, and Coach said to me, “See, girls. You need to be like her and push through it. Nice work, Andi.” I’ve carried that compliment – earned and special – for over 20 years.
When did you learn that you would recover from failure? Who taught you that lesson?