My one and only Birthday Party

I believe I was in the third grade. Somehow I think it was a surprise birthday party. (My sister might remember). It was during a time when I was into “My Little Pony.” I can barely remember who was at my party, except for a few photos I still have of the day. The problem is I cannot remember who most of the people are around the table in the photo.

The strongest memory I have is also one that paints me as a brat of a kid. While I know that survival was most likely the reason I never had another birthday party (food on the table at each meal was more important than having the best birthday bash) the memory I have was one of ingratitude. Before I tell you I have one further side note. I was in third grade during a time of “name envy.” The butt of your jeans had to have the right name brand or you did not fit in. Goodwill, hand-me-downs, and non-name brands did not work. As a kid growing up in a poor household, having “Guess” on my jeans was definitely not an option.

For that sole birthday party my mom made a cake and shaped it like a pony. It was to be a “My Little Pony” cake. The problem was that my mom spent so much time trying to shape the cake (I rather doubt they had a pony cake form back then), she forgot one of the key elements to the cake. The decoration/icing. My favorite (and probably only) My Little Pony was light blue with a lavender tail and mane. All My Little Ponies had a symbol on their hind that signified which Pony they were. Mine had lavender bows on the hind. My mom however decorated the cake so there were literally bows on the entire surface of the horse.

I was MORTIFIED. No one made fun of me, but I assumed all my friends thought this is what I thought a My Little Pony looked like. My friends never mentioned it, and I never brought it up, but I do think after it was all over I said something to my mom in tears. I am sure she wanted to slap me across the face (not that she ever would have) but wow did I sound ungrateful. When really I was afraid for what I would be thought of in a world that teased so heavily, where I would never have the “Guess” triangle on my butt.

Was it too much to ask for at the time to not stand out and to just fit in? Now that is the last thing I want – to fit in. Bring on the bows!

Winning or Learning?

I am a competitive person. Maybe it is because of being the baby of the family. I always had to keep up, and somehow along the way it made me competitive. Now that does not mean that I always have to win (although it is fun). For me it is the journey that matters. How hard did I try? How much did I care? How much did I push myself? How much did I sweat? Did I improve at all?

For me the competition is often against myself, not others. It is about making myself better, stronger, faster, sharper. Can I do something I have never done before and succeed? And, even if I do not succeed, did I truly try? That is what matters most to me. I have a hard time when folks are lazy, or when they expect something to be handed to them on a silver platter. I have what I have in life because I worked my ass off, not because it was delivered with lace, bows, and doilies.

I frequently read Seth Godin’s blog and a recent one made me ponder the idea of learning and competition.

“Did you win?”

“A far better question to ask (the student, the athlete, the salesperson, the programmer…) is, “what did you learn?” Learning compounds. Usually more reliably than winning does.”

Short and sweet, but to the point. Trying is learning. Trying and failing then trying again and again is what it is all about, even if in the framework of competition.

What do you think?