You’re doing something wrong, if you’re not failing
Debate is hard. There are a lot of late-nights, weekends sacrificed, nervous breakdowns, disappointment, and my favourite: red, hot embarrassment.
But, that’s exactly why I love it. I love the process of failing.
This year, I went to Harvard University to debate. I was a semi-finalist at York University. And I got the opportunity to be co-head of debate. I learned a lot and I want to share it with you.
Hint: there is an over looming, common theme amongst my 4 years of debating…“love of failure.”
You can consider this a journal entry about the my journey as a debater.
The start of disappointment.
It was the year 2016, and me, a short 7th grader had just enrolled in a new school. If anything, this was the year to try new things. I took a Toastmasters public speaking class, and joined my school debate club. I was shy, awkward, and definitely awestruck by these speakers’ ability to express themselves clearly and confidently.
I mean…Bo Seo can convince the whole room that the poor are justified in pursuing a Marxist revolution with just 8 minutes? The pure power of public speaking and words.
In my Toastmaster’s class, there was an end-of-the-term competition. I ended up placing 1st place.
That’s when I realized that I can be one of them as long as I put in the effort. That win gave me the confidence push to participate in a competitive public speaking competition at Villanova College.
I tirelessly practiced my speech over and over again; prayed that the impromptu speaking topic I got wouldn’t crush me.
And I got crushed.
I failed so bad. I remember looking for name on the rankings of speakers. The more my eyes went down the rank, the more I felt my heart crush. My eyes stopped at last place.
I placed as one of the last people in the whole competition. That’s when I thought to myself: maybe I can’t do this.
All of that stress and preparation for the competition…only to be last? But then, when the opportunity came to do another competition… I jumped on it and took it.
Why would I do that to myself?
I continued because of a combination of desire and fear. Simply: I liked giving speeches, and the process of writing it. Even if I wasn’t good at it… I had certain moments that were fulfilling enough to keep me going.
Look at this pig. He probably hates walking, but his desire for the carrot is stronger. It only takes 30 seconds of feeling great during a speech to convince myself debate was worth it, even if the other 4.5 minutes of my speech sucked. I saw potential for debating to be fun.
The other side of the reason was pure fear.
I don’t want to die average. I would hate to have done nothing useful in my life. (I wrote an article on this fear: click here) To my grade 7 self, these debaters had a magic with words that I admired. They seemed exceptional.
I was convinced I wanted to continue debate. I truly wanted to improve, and grow. I loved the process of writing speeches, giving speeches, reiterating feedback. Here’s my dilemma: I didn’t care about awards… until the awards ceremony. No matter the positives, I focused on the negatives. I instantly became upset I didn’t win.
As a kid, we love the feeling of jumping on a trampoline, until we see our friend jumping higher. That’s what happened to me.
Regardless, I sucked it up and got over it. I tried again. I kept on trying.
In grade 8 and 9, I went to every competition that I could attend + I spoke at several conferences.
I got the incredible opportunity to go to the International Independent Schools’ Public Speaking Competition. My school SCS team brought the 2018 Zoomer’s Cup home. I placed 2nd for Dramatic Monologue for Nora McRae 2019. I placed 2nd for Interpretive Reading at Villanova College.
I started winning awards. But, not for every competition. That made me insecure/ upset at times. How can some UTS kids literally win an award for every single competition they go to? What was I doing wrong?
I felt that way for a long time, until it clicked one day. I’m going to stop focusing on the awards, and intentionally train to be a better debater (skill wise).
Debate dabbles a bit into stoicism.
Focus on what you can control
You can only control you, and things you can’t control… don’t worry about it.
- With some judges, it’s a hit or miss (especially parent judges). I once had a parent judge ask me if the Government side (pro) is suppose to provide a model. Another told me that females don’t talk convincingly. Judges have their own biases that they bring to the table.
- You can control how much you prepare. You can control training.
- You can control your sportsmanship to others. Be kind to others. Support them.
- I can’t control panic attacks, but I can meditate. Sometimes I meditate before some of my rounds.
You can do things to optimize your probability to win. But ultimately, you can’t control the end decision if you win. And you have to accept that. In other words, amor fati. Love of fate.
Don’t lose sight of why you started in the first place
I started debate because I like debate; because I like challenges. As nerdy as it sounds, I love to intellectually pick at my brain about certain topics. Debate is actually fun.
Recognize the growth that allows you to be where you are today. Train gratitude.
You can always climb higher, but it’s healthy to look down and reflect on the insane efforts it took you to be where you are today.
In grade 10, I had the incredible opportunity to be co debate head with two other of my friends (Francesca Bizzarri and Gabrielle Moreau). This year allowed me to practice leadership and mentorship within my school debate community.
- I got to plan the Spring 2019 Fullford Debate tournament.
- I got to go as a pro at the UCC pro-am competition to mentor an awesome grade 7 beginner debater. I absolutely loved the process.
- Kickstarted debate at the beginning of the year with debating workshops for the grade 7s-9s. I and the team want to engage younger students in the realm of debate.
- Started a series of debate events between RSGC (a near by all-boys school), which was meant to establish a debate partnership. Once in a while, RSGC and SCS would debate just to spice things up from the usual debate club meetings.
This couldn’t happen without my co-heads, Gabrielle and Francesca. It’s all a collective team effort to establish an accepting, and growth-encouraging community.
As I move forward with debate, I would love for the community to move forward with a “failure accepting culture”.
Many people are intimidated to join debate, because they don’t like to be put on the spot. Or I hear excuses like “I’m just not good at debate.”
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Chances are, if it’s your first time debating, you probably won’t do too well. That’s not to say that you don’t belong. Every single debater starts off rough, and work their way up. Success is built upon failure.
A matter of mindset
Debate allowed me to train this resilience to not give up.
I want other people to recognize that failure is fun.
If I go on for a while without failing… I’m definitely doing something wrong. I hate being stuck in a cycle on complacency, because I know I can do more. If you’re the smartest person in the room, GET OUT! Always strive for growth, and don’t settle for mediocre standards. Keep on pushing yourself. Teachers hate me for this, but I raise my hand to ask a question whenever I’m bored in class.
Failing + growth mindset helps you grow.
It’s important to mention that you’re not entitled to success the first try. You get better through hard humble work. Get rid of victim mentality.
“The desire for more positive experiences is in itself a negative experience. And Paradoxically, the accepting of one’s negative experiences is a positive one” -Mark Manson
Debate has taught me one of the most valuable lessons in life. I still have many areas to grow. I’m excited what the future of debate has to offer, and grateful for the people that have helped me on this journey.
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