Back when I was in elementary school, I remember entering an Easter card design contest. We drew a picture on a small square piece of paper, and the winner was supposed to get two hundred Toys ‘R’ Us dollars and his or her design made into an actual Easter card. I drew two bunny heads on either side of a basket of Easter eggs with “Happy Easter” written on the top. Sometime later, I was swinging in the playground when someone called me inside to meet with a Toys ‘R’ Us representative. The representative told me I had won, and presented me with a basket of Easter candy. I was so excited that I didn’t even realize I never got the dollars promised me. What’s more, I never even saw my card in stores.
It may be surprising to hear that this is a happy memory. It was disappointing, sure, but in retrospect I was a kid and probably preferred the basket of candy anyway.
Certainly it would have been nice to see my card published, but I was just happy to have won such a big contest, my first one in fact. Plus, it was making the card that I really enjoyed, so any prize wasn’t that important to me. As I remember biting off the ears to a large chocolate rabbit, I realize that playing to win will always leave me feeling empty. Life is a lot more enjoyable playing games for fun rather than victory.
Later on, I entered a contest at the public library. I didn’t even know what the prize was, but all I had to do was color in a picture. This was the kind of thing I loved to do: display my creativity in something others could enjoy. I had some more fun with this contest, and, luckily enough, I managed to win once more. When I saw the prize, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It was a pair of paper glasses that, when worn, made rainbows appear around any lights. If I were to find those same glasses now, I would think they weren’t worth a dime. Although it may have been because I was just a kid, somehow that prize meant so much more to me after I had worked for it.
Since then, I’ve grown up quite a bit, and I started to think about contests where you don’t work for the prize, such as the lottery. I imagine that playing it must be so unfulfilling, having no fun in entering and most likely always losing. I’ll bet even the big winners don’t appreciate their money as much because they haven’t earned it. The contest I find worth entering is the one I don’t mind losing because the event itself is meaningful. The key to happiness is to put less thought into the destination and more focus on making the journey unforgettable.
I look back on these moments now and wonder. In most of my experience, my goals haven’t quite lived up to my expectations. I idealized them to the point that they could never be what I had hoped. I just need to remember what my earliest contests have taught me. In this case, the goal is college, but I don’t strive for good grades just so I can gain admission to the one I want, because education is about learning, not just a necessary means to the next stage in my life. I study hard because I’m eager to learn, and the grades follow. I won’t allow it to be a lottery; that is, I’ll do my best to make college worth the struggle it requires. It’s moments like writing this very essay, where I get to have fun and be creative, that make the whole process of reaching my goal enjoyable enough to accept whatever the outcome might be. Now that the time for college has finally come, the destination becomes a journey in itself, and I’m determined to make the most of that one as well.
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