When Your Number Isn’t Called, Remember Why You Danced

I entered a writing competition in August on Medium. There were four categories – Space, Death, Reentry and Work. I wrote articles for the first two:

Space

According to Society’s Expectations, I’ve Failed At Life

Death

For Whom the Flyswatter Sings

The winners were just announced. I did not win any prize or receive any honorable mention. I didn’t expect to, honestly. There were about 10,000 entries between the four categories! I didn’t maximize my chances by entering all four categories, and more importantly, I still have plenty to learn and explore when it comes to writing.

We always take a special risk when we enter competitions with a subjective subject matter. Both writing and dance have their black-and-white technique, but that technique is primarily a tool for the greater purpose of artistic expression. Art is meant to evoke an emotional reaction, but that reaction is out of the artist’s control. Some people love my writing. Others feel “meh” about it. (Hopefully, no one hates it!)

How do you judge art? I’ve stated before that I don’t envy the judges’ task at ballroom competitions, not in the slightest. Finding a balance between the technique, the artistic expression, the overall quality, the emotional reaction, etc. and deciding who is the best on the floor is no small feat, especially when you only have 60-90 seconds. Perhaps that is why some believe that judges just pick the dancers they’re familiar with, because it’s easier. I wonder if the complaining dancers would do the same if they were judging…

As artists, whether of movement or the written word, we tend to put a piece of our soul into each of our creative works. To us, it’s not just a 3-minute read or a 75-second Rumba that’s being judged, it’s the hours we spent in front of the computer searching for the perfect words or in the studio refining our hip action. It’s the moment of euphoria no one witnessed when that elusive missing piece fell into place. It’s the many moments of despair crouched against the studio mirror, wondering if we should just give up. It’s standing back up, resolved to try one more time.

So much goes into our creative works that no one else is fully aware of because it’s happening internally. We wage battle against our fears, self-doubt and imposter syndrome at the same time we’re creating. Hitting that publish button or stepping onto that dance floor is nowhere near the beginning of the journey, except for those judging us, it is. I’d always prefer to be judged by my final product than my first draft, but I have to remind myself that it’s only the final product that’s being judged, not the journey to get there.

While we’ve turned many famous artists’ journeys into final products themselves, in the form of memoirs, documentaries or reality series, for the rest of us, our artistic journey is for us alone. My path to that competition floor or that published article is different from anyone else’s. Only a very select few, if any, get to witness that path. I treasure the internal process of finding those perfect words to match the images in my head or finally understanding a technique tweak and feeling the difference in my dancing. I also love getting to share my final products with an audience.

Entering competitions is a way to challenge myself and raise the stakes. I’m not performing for a general audience who mainly wants to be entertained. These people will catch my mistakes and slipups. They will also appreciate the tiny details that a general audience might miss. While I value what the extra pressure does for my preparation and ultimate performance, I don’t hang my hat on the final opinions of that more knowing audience, a.k.a. the judges. Don’t get me wrong, I love to win! I’m still human, so I enjoy the external validation and recognition of my efforts. But it isn’t one of my “whys.” So when I enter a competition and my article isn’t selected or my number isn’t called, I can keep moving forward because that selection wasn’t the real driver behind creating that work.

Still, it can suck when you don’t get recognized at all. It can make you wonder why you put in all that effort and went through all those moments of despair and euphoria. If you ask me, those moments are the reason. Maybe they’re not your reason, maybe you have a different reason for your artistic journey. The point is to know that reason so when you enter that competition and the results don’t turn out in your favor, you can be happy for the winners, grateful for the experience, and ready to move forward to the next adventure.

One final thought – just because the judges didn’t recognize your work as one of the best doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. I didn’t win Medium’s Writers Challenge, but I’m still sharing my entries with you. They can still inspire people without being competition winners. Your creative works don’t need to be bestsellers or win your championships in order to make a difference in someone’s life.

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