Disappointment, Feeling Happy for Friends, and Learning to Enjoy the Journey

“I’m disappointed my team can’t go to Iowa, but I also feel proud that one of our school’s teams got first place in their problem.”

My son participated in Odyssey of the Mind this year. This is the first year it’s been at our school, and four teams, each working on a different problem, competed in Park City. Unfortunately, most of the kids from our school are, like my son, going to bed disappointed tonight.

Only one of the teams from our school placed, and my son’s wasn’t one of those teams. The team that did place won first for their problem — and has a chance to go to the world finals at Iowa State University.

All of the kids worked hard, and all of them did a great job. In a perfect world, all of their hard work would be rewarded and they’d all travel to Iowa to compete with kids from around the world.

Alas, the world isn’t perfect, and no matter how hard you work, there’s a good chance that someone else is better. It’s a painful reality that most of us learn at some point.

My son expressed his disappointment as we sat at Training Table waiting for our food. He said he felt bad that they had worked hard and didn’t even place.

It was a hard thing.

This is the first time that my son has participated in a competition of this kind (although he’s known disappointment before). After months of preparation, a long day, and a 15-minute dance party, he had to watch several teams receive awards.

The fact that there were plenty of other teams that didn’t place wasn’t much of a balm to his 11-year-old soul. Receiving the participation ribbon didn’t help, either. I suspect he probably would have been fine without it.

But disappointment isn’t his only feeling. He is learning that it’s possible to feel multiple things at the same time. Even though he feels disappointed that his team didn’t place, he is happy for the school team that did place. And he is proud of them, since they won first prize. He has pride in his school, and he feels happy for his fellow students.

We also talked about the journey. The last week or so of the journey was a bit stressful for everyone as they careened toward the competition, frantically practicing one last time and trying to get everything together. However, for most of the process, he enjoyed himself.

He worked on a challenging problem. He joined a team effort. We talked about the parts that he enjoyed, and talked about the things he learned. Even though the journey ended sooner than he expected, and not in the way he wanted, it was still a journey worth taking.

He’s already talking about middle school next year, and speculating about which activities and clubs are possibilities for extracurricular involvement.

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