My Biggest Life Lessons Summed Up in 4-7 Minute Increments

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Every year I go back to the place where I proudly break kids…into final rounds as a Forensics tournament judge. From the instant I walk through the door the frenetic energy is palpable and the chatter in the main commons of the building sounds like a million and seven crickets amped on adrenaline and caffeine and sugar cubes (don’t forget the sugar cubes).

Nervousness and excitement pull me in. I glance over and see my very first forensic and debate coach, Coats, as she’s known, and I flash back to what seems like an entire lifetime ago, how long exactly is irrelevant. Paola High School is my Alma Mater and my “Panther Pride” still swells as I walk back through the doors.

The halls smell a little like au gratin potatoes with a top of note of nervous sweat and hormones, particularly today. It’s not lovely.

What seems perfectly normal to me- the behavior of the contestants of this tournament- would probably be concerning to anyone else not familiar with what to expect. Thespians line the halls, mumbling, chanting, and some even yelling with gestures, pacing back and forth as they emote through the walls as if they are speaking to another person. All of this seems somewhat out of place amongst the typical lockers, drab walls, stained carpets and bulletin boards of the high school, but yet today, I wouldn’t expect anything else.

I love it here, today! It was through Forensics and Debate that I learned the most about who I am, my personal character, and exactly what I am capable of. Something about being thrown into a room with one other person whose sole purpose in that moment is to judge you makes you do one of two things, either you fall flat on your face, or rise to the occasion. Fortunately, I experienced both.

I figured out I had control over some things happening in that room. I could practice and prepare, I could learn the lines and develop the character, and I could use my voice to deliver a message or evoke an emotion. What I had no control over was if the person listening would appreciate how I had chosen to prepare the piece. I had one shot at it with that one judge.

Once I opened that door and entered, gave my introduction and headed into my first lines there was no turning back until I was done with my selection or time was up (sometimes I hoped for the latter). Confidence played an enormous part! I didn’t get a ton of confidence in high school like some kids do, but I got some. What I did get was a solid foundation of which I could build throughout my life.

I learned how to feel crazy scared, nervous, and want to run but how to stay in the moment and push myself to do it anyway. Learning to breathe, swallow hard, and to take that first step into the room is a skill I still have. I don’t necessarily still need it, but I had to learn it to get to where I am now. Recognizing that I survived the sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, dry mouth, and chose to stay and “fight” rather than take “flight” has made all the difference in my life.

Forensics in not like a team sport where you have all your team mates at your side, working together toward the win. Yes, a team in forensics scores collective points, but each individual is alone. Each member of the team must face their challenges individually and over come them on their own. Nothing prepares you for life’s obstacles more than learning how to trust and depend on yourself, and how to push through that fear and do it anyway! I may fall on my face, chances are I’ll rise to the occasion, but at least I got a chance to experience it and learn from it in 4-7 minute increments in forensics first before facing it in real life.

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