February 11, 2011. Two days before my eighth birthday. It also happened to be the day of my first ever spelling bee. If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting too much. I had learned the list of words that my brother had learned for the bee (we were both competing). The bee began, and I got my words.
Gnash. Feud. Thorax. Raspberry. Succinct. I didn’t struggle too much.
It was my turn again.
Zigzaggedness. I knew this one. No problem.
“Zigzaggedness. S . . .”
I stopped. How could I have said the wrong letter? On accident? I knew the word!
I felt myself blushing more intensely than I ever had, and probably ever would. All 300 kids in my elementary school were staring at me, and I had just made a fool of myself. What could be done?
I spat out the correct letters. Z-I-G-Z-A-G-G-E-D-N-E-S-S. But it was too late. I couldn’t take back the S. I jumped off the stage and sat down with the other eliminated kids. Then I cried.
Within a week or two, I had gotten over it. It was just the spelling bee. Who cared about that anyway?
From that day, I would go on to compete in my regional bee four times. I would go to the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice, placing ninth in 2015 and fourth in 2016. You probably already know some of this if you’re on this website. I promise there’s a point to me saying all of this.
On that February day seven years ago, I didn’t know that as the years went on, spelling would become unrivaled as the most important thing in my life. I was going to study hundreds of thousands of words, give up other activities, say “no” to my friends far more often than I wanted to, and it was ultimately going to pay off. I was going to get to go to Washington, DC twice (and once as a spectator) and meet so many people. Some of them would become my closest friends. I was going to win a bee put on by the Spelling Bee of China in California. I was going to travel to China for a spelling bee, and I was going to get to meet even more amazing people through that experience. Once I was ineligible, I was going to start coaching younger spellers.
Of course, seven-year-old me didn’t know any of those things. I figured I’d do the school bee the next year in fourth grade and try to win. If I didn’t, it would be no big deal. I didn’t need spelling. There were better things to do. Over seven years later, I can’t imagine my life without spelling.
This rambling and messy post does have a purpose. If you’re doing anything (spelling or something else) and you’ve only just begun, don’t give up. You never know where it might take you. It might just be the best thing to ever happen to you.