Do You Have to Come in First to Win?

competition, virtualAt the time of this writing, I’ve been doing an online, self-paced Spanish course for 270 days.

In order to move to the next level of learning I have to reach a certain ranking for the week. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to score enough points to move ahead. Too few points and I could be demoted to the previous level.

A few times I didn’t put in enough effort and barely maintained my standing. This bothered me so I now strive to remain in the top twelve.

Last week I checked my score and discovered I was in first place! It was only day one of the week so, while excited, I knew it might not last. The next morning, I had dropped to second place so spent a little longer online and regained my standing.

This is the way it continued for several days. My competitive nature had me spending more and more time each day. Sometimes I went online a second time to check my score and do another quick lesson. I wanted to finish the week as number one and get the virtual rewards that position offered.

With less than two days to go, someone surpassed me by so many points I would have to spend about three hours each day rather than my daily one hour. If I did this there was a good possibility I could win!

The voice of reason asked me what the cost would be. Time with my husband would pay the price, as would many other pleasures.

As if that weren’t bad enough, when I race through lessons, more intent on gathering points than learning, my retention diminishes. Foolish mistakes are made. Was the intent to learn the language or to come first in this level?

I listened to reason. That left time to bake muffins, go for a walk with my husband, email a childhood friend and work on a writing project. Although I didn’t finish in first place, what I spent my time on definitely made me a winner.

Baby Steps

#inspiration, baby, steps, supportMy friend’s baby is learning to walk. She started by pulling herself up on a piece of furniture and moving down the length of it. Having the furniture for support helped her gain confidence.

Holding onto mom’s fingers was another way to walk from one spot to another. One day the time came for her to take a step without holding onto anything for support. This was risky and took a lot of coaxing. After a tentative step forward, she fell. The look of surprise on her face could have easily been followed by tears and a refusal to try again.

Instead, mom quickly scooped her up, praised the effort and stood her on wobbly legs again. Encouragement and cheers followed with every step and every fall. Before long the steps were more frequent than the falls. It won’t be long before she is ready to move from walking to running.

The same principle holds true for us. We expect to take off running when we start something new. This is unrealistic and leads to frustration and discouragement. There are times when the falls are so frequent I wonder if I should give up.

Past experience has taught me I learn best when I take baby steps and celebrate each small success. When I attempt to master new skills the support and encouragement of others can help me get back on my feet and take a few more steps forward.

This may be repeated many times before I can move quickly and confidently in this new area. When it feels like I’m not moving fast enough I remind myself that baby steps will get me farther than if I didn’t take any steps at all.