I used to teach in a small rural high school where the athletic types, the jocks, so to speak, were well defined. As usual, their powers went beyond the physical and extended to all aspects of high school life. They were chosen to be on special leadership committees, featured in the local news media, and in general regarded in a different, certainly a brighter, light than some, if not most, of the other students. Of course there are actions that administrations can take to dissuade this type of thing, putting more focus on the arts, stem programs, academic achievements, that sort of thing. However, the students that participate in cross country, swimming, skiing, and other sports requiring lengthy practices conducted on more of an individual basis often do so devoid of any immediate returns.
I had one student, a freshman named Mark, that had joined the cross-country team and every day he would come in after school before practice and tell me how badly he sucked. He said he knew this was true because his father had convinced him of it. According to his father, Mark and his friend, Ryan, were had the worst times on the team. I would remind him that they were just starting out and that most of their team members had been running for a few years now. He would, sigh, roll his eyes and walk out. After a few weeks of this, he came in to tell me he had improved his time by twenty seconds. Twenty seconds! Now that might not seem like much in the world of beginners in cross-country but it was to him. Even though he continued to remind me how much he sucked on a daily basis, I could see that his attitude was changing and hanging on to that twenty seconds success, he began to build more and more confidence. Call it a con, or an impossible dream, but he began to believe in himself, even if he was still on the bottom of the heap. Even after his friend dropped out, he kept going. Long story, a bit shorter. He stopped saying he sucked and by the time he was a senior, he became a state finalist.
I am not sharing this as a testimony to what I did for him. I am sharing it because of what he did for me. When I start to doubt myself, I think of Mark and how twenty seconds made him believe in himself. As new ‘unproven’ writers, we must listen to many different voices in the field without losing our own. Do what ever it takes not to lose faith. Keep on going and one day, you will be twenty seconds farther along the road to success.