I’ve been entering contests throughout my life. I’ve entered many different types of contests and won cash prizes, trips, and “woohoo” recognition. The earliest I won was a Halloween costume contest. I was five years old, dressed as a clown – competing mostly among adults – in a burger joint. I won twenty silver dollars for that gig.
The next contests I recall entering were spelling bees. I won top one and two for my fifth and sixth grade classes, but I never won past that. I don’t think it bothered me that I lost, because I always knew I had tough competition against those that were better than me. My prize? A “woohoo” and a pat on the back. Not too bad.
I remember winning first place in my elementary school’s story writing competition, but I can’t tell you what year it was or what the story entailed. Another “woohoo”. (I did, however, contact the school a few years ago to find out if they’d kept copies. Unfortunately, they did not.)
As I became older, I don’t know if I was more competitive or more insecure about entering contests. All I know is that I just wanted to be “picked” – and once I got picked, I wanted to be number one. But that changed once I got on the other side of judging – and this is where I learned that contests are not always what they’re cracked up to be.
If you enter a contest that requires a part of you – a literary work, a piece of music, a piece of art, etc. – in order to survive the rejections and critiques, you must go in with this in mind:
Your work is an item on a menu – one is better than the other – only to select people. The restaurant is the audience – or the venue – in which you’ve entered the contest. You want pizza with everything on it, our friends don’t want sausage, our kids only want pepperoni, their kids only want cheese, and I don’t want pizza at all because I’m craving shrimp francese.
It’s what the people want, what the people crave or understand. Since preferences are a matter of choice among the hungry people at that particular moment at that particular restaurant, so I have learned to take criticism with humility. After all, it’s only someone else’s opinion.