Reminiscing Old Times: The thrills of competitions

“Oftentimes winning can become an addiction, whether good or bad, to the point where you would rather lose it all before you lose at all.”

– Criss Jami, Killosophy, successfully googled

I was crazy about competitions in my high school days. I was extremely active in both high school debating team and science olympiad and literally spend the most of my first year for both activities—be it in the form of actual competitions or its preparations. There was this time when I just skipped too many Mondays because of those activities and had to take a substitute math exam in the teachers’ lounge. I ended up getting a bad score for I did not even recognize the materials used for the exam—guess I skipped it. In the first semester, the competition bug got me so bad that I had to settle with a rank of 25/27 in class. The other two below ended up dropping out from my school’s acceleration program. Yes, I was that bad.

Being who I was, and still am, I would do my outmost best and put every effort possible for something I’m interested in—by that time, it was competitions. I joined debate championships regularly, with most being in the semi-finals, and at the same time studying earth science from deep earth. I went to practice sessions, tutorials, mock competitions—it literally was the things keeping me alive. I was blissfully content with how I was then. Sure, I rarely won, as it was always my seniors in the second and third grade that took the crown, but it felt good. I loved the efforts, the thrills of the competitions, the people, and basically just every part of it. And then it all went away.

I always thought that someday my name will be the one to replace my seniors, yet it never did. Being an accelleration student as I was, studying only for two rather than three years, there had to be some sacrifices made. I was not allowed to go on to any competitions again in my second year, both by my school and parents. The decision was so sudden and shocking, though I fully realized the truth since I joined on the start of my high school. Then high school became crazy hell for me. I told my father that I want to quit my program because I want to have more chances at competitions and join social class—some of the previleges I was not allowed to enjoy up til the very end. He took me to the principal, and on the next day, due to some weak resolutions I had, I was subdued. Education is important, he said, and you would not want to make your mother sad. And, after all, it is not guaranteed that you will win on the next round, right? Maybe it’s just not your thing. Afterwards, I admitted defeat.

I’m still feeling teary-eyed even now whenever I think about it. It was my moment of defeat. I started cutting loose of my usual circle of friends, left the meetings, and simply was angry at everything around me. I was in high school then, and all I dreamt of was holding the same thropies as my seniors did, and I made sure my efforts count, yet still I never did. My friends were worried sick, and I could not blame them. I was angry—by the fact that I could not even have any shot to pursue what I wanted, by the fact that I was replaced by some people who never even showed up at practices though I’ve stayed extremely dilligent from the very beginning, by the fact tnat a person that cheated on me on the first selection can enter again and ended up getting a silver. I was angry at my parents, who one-sidedly made the decisions simply because I was ‘still a kid’ and they didn’t like me going home a little too late.

I ended up being angry for the rest of my high school days that I forgot what was important—the friends I made. After I started pulling back, some people were truly worried of me. A debating senior of mine, who used to pat my head everytime I failed in competitions gave me a really worried look after I said I won’t be joining them again. I ended up cutting all my ties and activities with and relating to them in any way, simply by saying I was busy studying for the upcoming exam. My best friend, who was once my teammate, quit the team with me so I wouldn’t feel lonely. She said it was because I was the one who got her in—I literally dragged her to the first meeting, being only us as the first-years, and the team is not as interesting as it was before with me not being there. From the way I see it now, it was very sweet of her, as I know she loved the debates as well. My other teammate often came to complain about her new teammates extremely loud to my face. And I just kept shutting them out. As my senior often said, shit happens, and it happens for a reason.

The worse part just kept coming afterwards. I continued my study and was successfully accepted in two prestigious majors in two elite universities, one being in civil engineering and the other law. I, who was then extremely taken by law since my high school days, much due to the influence of my seniors, undoubtedly chose law. Yet, again, fate took a different turn with my parents on the opposing side. It was then decided I will be joining as a civil engineer student in a university back home. And, guess what, I did not feel quite as comfortable and ended up dropping out from the major to pick communications. I guess I still had that social trait carried from my undeveloped interest in joining social class. Afterwards, life took me into so many different turns that I eventually forgot, but the thing I remember the most is this—I had avoided all things necessary to be involved in any form of decent competitions, be it formal or mock ones, and especially debating. The thing I had loved the most had become the one I avoided in the end. Guess I always had that coming.

I hate the long-time preparations. I hate the ambitious friends. I hate the competitive environment. I hate the unquallified judges. I hate losing. And most of all, I hate to be reminded that I lost without even having any chance to try. For that reason, my competition days are finally over, buried down inside never to be discovered—or at least I thought so.

I guess sometime over the years I forgot about my anger and had asked some of my friends to casually compete in several communication competitions out there. It was for the sake of making use of our free time, so that I wouldn’t have any unnecessary thoughts that come everytime I’m alone. I had my first competition in, literally, years just now. It was a small video competition, one I thought we can nail down without a hitch, yet in fact not—blame it on the sucky judges! I was, once again, after all these years, reminded of what it was like in competitions—the thrills that I once loved and may come to love once again. Being in a room a little too big with small amount of audience, commenting on others’ supposedly suck performances, meeting familiar faces and introducing ourselves to interesting new ones, gossiping a little too loud when others are explaining things, waiting for the snack and lunchboxes, and of course, cursing the judges for their inappropriate judging criteria. I had experienced something so familiar yet had been buried down long ago. I must say, it was relieving to finally be able to feel that atmosphere again. Unconciously, I may have craved for the thrills all these years.

It is not about the lousy competition, but rather how it made me feel. I remember the old times—counting on the rank board, casebuilding, and having my name being called by microphones in Monday ceremony. I realized that I had forgot how I came to love any forms of competitions, debating being one of the speciality. I had always implemented a black or white logic in determining my actions, including on competitions— be in it all or not at all, and I chose the latter. But really, at times I just focused on the victory I couldn’t have and just let go of it all because of one small detail. I was so obsessed in winning and being angry that I failed to see the bigger picture—to be happy. I was reminded of how happy being in competitions made me feel, especially group ones. I lost many of the friends I made during my high school days for that reason, and in the end it got me to think of what went wrong. Winning is an option, but it’s not everything. It should have never made me so angry to not having a chance at winning because I can still feel the thrills I longed for. It’s still there.

I don’t know where my feet will take me, but I know that I no longer feel any anger. And who knows, you might see me out there in competitions again sometime over the years. I might be a little bit rusty, but the engine’s still there.


PS: I was literally sniffling in the train on my way back home. What is it about long distance train and emotional wrecks?

Lintang Cahyaningsih


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