I had an extremely interesting experience today, and it was extremely eye-opening. One of my best friends is a high school English teacher, but she also coaches speech and debate. They’re always in need of volunteers to be judges for the tournaments, and I was finally able to go. As I sat there judging these kids, my over-analytical self was thinking way too far into this thing, but it really helped me realize why it’s so important that we don’t let the opinions of others define us.
When I got to the tournament, I was a bit nervous because it was my first time judging one of these tournaments (or anything really for that matter). The teachers were awesome though, and my friend explained the scoring system. Something I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that today was all of the speech kids, so I wasn’t actually judging debates.
I really wanted to see how these young people debated topics because I feel we live in a time where debate is something that nobody does anymore. Online, people just judge everyone else and refuse to see the view of the opposing side. It blows my mind how it’s rare that people can have a civil conversation about serious topics without becoming outraged, so I was hoping seeing these young people debate would restore a little bit of my faith in the future of people being able to have conversations.
But, as I said, today was speech day, so I had no clue what I was walking into. There were several types of speeches they’d be doing, and I was only able to see two different types, but basically, each one had a different format, and the first one I did was a little bit more theatrical.
Basically, each of the competitors had a topic they’d be giving a speech on, but they’d be playing different characters and kind of telling a story. It was cool because they were giving different perspectives on a singular subject, and they got pretty creative. Some students displayed people having different views on a subject, and others used a variety of examples to make their argument stronger.
Now, something I wasn’t prepared for was the theatrics of it all, and let me paint the picture for you a little.
It was me, in a classroom, with seven high school kids in this first round. Each one of them took turns doing their 10-minute memorized performance. So, one person in front with seven sets of eyeballs on them.
For me, this is insane. I’ve realized there are three types of people. There are those who feel more comfortable speaking in front of a small group or one-on-one. Then there are those who feel more comfortable speaking in front of a larger audience, and finally, there are those who have wicked anxiety and can’t imagine speaking in front of anyone. Well, the reason I found this insane is because I’m in the second group of people who feels comfortable speaking in front of a large audience rather than a small one, so I was blown away that these young people could do this with so much confidence.
They covered a variety of topics from the anxiety of fearing death, how working moms are judged as bad parents, why the education system needs an overhaul, the fear of missing out and more. Each one was it’s own monologue, and some of them were far more theatrical than others. I’m talking full-on emotion and as close to scripted tears as you can get.
Now, something you may not know about me is that I’m not a fan of theater. It’s just not my thing. I respect the hell out of anyone who is able to act, but I’m not into it. There were two or three of the seven young people who were really into it, and I’m just not a fan of that stuff.
As I reflected on the scorecard after and thought about who I liked, I took this into consideration, but only for a second.
When I started to factor in my own personal preference, I thought, “Who the hell am I to judge these kids based on my preferences?!”. Like, think about that for a second. Was I going to ding a kid on points just because they did a style that I’m not a fan of? Would that be fair? What if I wasn’t the judge, and they got a drama teacher as the judge. He’d probably love the theatrics. Should he give them extra points because he loves that style? Would that be fair to the others?
The next round I judged was more of a speech, and it was six different kids in this category. And this was the semi-finals of the tournament, so these kids were bringing their “A” game. They had a topic that they picked, researched and presented an issue with some solutions (and you know I love me some solutions).
Again, there was such a wide range of topics covered. One young person discussed how we’re controlled by fear and what to do about it. Two of them picked different topics about the visibility of specific populations. One discussed how her favorite book series is Harry Potter, but there isn’t much diversity in the books, and the other young woman discussed how there isn’t much representation of people with disabilities. Another young woman talked about how we need to slow down and focus on the big picture rather than just what’s happening right now, and one of the young women even talked about the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century and how it helped fuel the Holocaust.
Amazing subjects, right?!
As a judge, I was in a pickle again. Like most people, I have my own beliefs and opinions. Personally, I’m progressive, but I also see things a little different than some progressives. Then, I started thinking about conservatives. In this round, I wasn’t judging solo. There were two other guys judging with me in this round. What if one or both were conservative? Would they not score some of the progressive topics as well? If the kids spoke on conservative topics, would I not score them well?
I started thinking about these brave kids getting up to perform one by one. I started imagining how much time they spent doing research and memorizing their speech. I thought about how they picked topics that mattered to them and the passion they put into their presentations, and I was so moved by it.
As I judged the event, I was transported back to my younger years, and I thought about how many things I was passionate about. I wondered why these kids chose speech and debate. Did they want to grow up and be politicians? Advocates? Actors and actresses? Journalists?
Some of them even said in their speech the dreams they had for college and careers. When I was their age, the sky was the limit, and I could be anything I wanted to be. The sky was the limit.
But then, I started thinking about how sensitive I was as a young person as well. I was extremely insecure and wanted to be the best at everything. I’d be devastated if I put that much work and passion into something and was judged poorly. The worst part about being judged poorly is not always knowing the exact reasons. As a young person developing an anxiety disorder and depression, I have a million thoughts in my head.
Was I that bad? Was I not as good as I thought I was? Is my future ruined? Should I just give up?
So, as I watched these young people do their speeches, I started getting anxious. With all of my own biases, I could place one of these kids in last place based on my own dumb opinions and ruin their entire life.
By now, you either think I’m over-analyzing and completely insane, or you can definitely relate. Either way, I think there’s an important lesson to be learned.
What I ended up doing was recognizing all of my biases to the best of my ability and judge these young people purely based on how they did. I judged them based on the research they did and how coherent their speech was. As a storyteller and creator, my goal is to always make sure that you, the audience, understand what I’m trying to share. Some of the young people did better than others.
Luckily, we were able to leave comments on their sheets as well, so I took my time and made sure to leave each one with a thoughtful comment. As you know, I don’t think you should ever lie to someone about the quality of their work. So, I told them all how great they did, but I did give some of them constructive criticism that I felt would help them step up their game and improve from my point of view.
Watching each of these brave young men and women go up there, I fought back the urge at the end of each round of making my own speech telling them how awesome they were.
I wanted to stand up and say something cheesy like, “No matter what happens, you’re all winners today.” Then, I remembered how coaches said that shit to me when I was a kid, and I never believed it. Now, as an adult, I totally get what they were saying though.
No, I don’t believe in participation trophies. I believe young people need to know that there are winners and losers, so they can learn that reality of life. Although I don’t believe in participation trophies and everyone being a “winner”, I do feel like people of all ages need to get a lot of credit for even making the attempt.
I just made a video this morning about how many people are afraid to put themselves out there. I know so many people not working on a project because of the fear of being judged or made fun of. But later today, I watched all of these young people say, “Fuck it”, and go compete in this tournament. I wanted to let them know that there are thousands of kids in this city who wouldn’t have the guts to do what they just did, and there are even more adults who would be terrified to attempt what they just did, and that’s gotta be worth something.
What I really wanted to tell them is to not listen to me, and I want to tell you the same thing.
In a broader sense, what I mean is don’t let the opinions of others define you.
I could have easily judged these kids based on my own preferences. Does that mean they did bad and aren’t good enough? Hell no. I’m just one asshole with one opinion. I don’t ever want someone to feel too bad or too good about my opinion. What matters is what they think of themselves.
For you and me, we need to think about how often we let the opinions of others define us. One person doesn’t love us, so we think we’re unlovable. One company doesn’t hire us, so we think that we’re not worth hiring. One person doesn’t want to be friends with us, so we think nobody wants to be friends with us.
All of these are absolutely false. That one person who doesn’t love or want to date us might just not be into us based on their own preferences. When that company doesn’t hire us, it might have had nothing to do with us. We could have nailed that interview, but without us knowing, one of the kids of a boss gets hired. And when that person doesn’t want to be friends with us, maybe they only hang out with assholes, and we’re not assholes, so why are we sweating it?
There’s only one opinion in this entire universe that should trump all others, and it’s your own. It’s the only one you have some control over. Even when you don’t have control over what you think of yourself, you do have control over the effort you put in. If you gave it your best, that’s something you should be proud of. If your best wasn’t good enough for someone else, that’s not your problem. Continue to do you, and be the badass that you are, and don’t let some random jackhole’s opinion define you because what do they know anyway?
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Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 16, 2019.