It’s the third grade. The classroom spelling bee. It is the moment I have been waiting for all year! The moment where I just KNOW that my studying and practicing will pay off! I am going to be the third grade spelling bee champion! After a long, grueling match, it is down to two lone contestants. Another child…and ME! My teacher says my word…a common word. I KNOW this word. “Machine. m..a…s..h..i..n..e. Machine.” Not right?? How can that not be right? How DO you spell it then? I’m out?!
And in that one moment, I almost won the spelling bee. While some might call this a failure or a loss, I call it my near win. It was one among many that I would encounter through the years, but it was the first near win that compelled me to be better. Although I was defeated in the competition, the desire to push myself further, to become better was not squelched. It was that near win that led me to a love of reading, writing, and the study of words. At first, it was to prepare for any word I was ever asked to spell, but it grew into a deep love and appreciation for the Arts. This near win propelled me into a life-long struggle toward mastery. Over the years, the “thing” that I was trying to master has changed, but the struggle itself has remained constant.
This TED talk has come at such a perfect moment. Today is one of those days when I have held back tears and thought over and over how far I have to go, as an educator, a believer, a mom, a wife….I want the life that lives in my head. The one where success happens at a steady pace that can be seen.
But my path can be a mess… forward, sideways and backwards…. and sometimes I can’t tell which direction I’m headed. I know what I want, I know the steps necessary to get there, but rarely does it happen when I want and how I want.
In this talk, Sarah Lewis uses her expertise as an art historian to talk about the importance of a near win. She tells of her experience of studying an artist only to realize that not all of the works were masterpieces. She explains that achieving mastery is really coming to the realization that mastery is never possible because there is always room for improvement and growth.
I want to encourage you to take a few minutes to watch this talk. Think about how you can embrace your “near wins,” and how you can celebrate those your students have. Realize that the runner-up in the classroom spelling bee is not the loser. It may very well be that the runner-up is the student who shows more passion, more self direction, more charisma than any other contestant, including the winner. We are all masterpieces…unfinished, yes, but we each have the potential to propel ourselves forward each day, getting better at our jobs, becoming better educators, better moms, better wives…and it’s our near wins that make all the difference.