No one believes me, but it is true. When I was in fourth grade, I won a spelling contest.
I don’t remember the words, but I do remember the prize – a small pocket-sized dictionary. “The New Vest Pocket Webster Dictionary,” to be exact. I still have it. It’s in my desk drawer. I keep it as a reminder of what I can do, of what I am capable of and of the possibilities of my dreams- even when no one believes in them – except me.
I remember that day in fourth grade. We were in a line around the perimeter of the classroom. I leaned next to the cabinet where the pencil sharpener was bolted to a wooden countertop. It was the countertop where my fourth grade crush had carved my initials PH deep into the wood.
We went around the circle spelling words and sitting down when we didn’t spell one correctly. I was the last one standing. I surprised myself. I was so proud to be given the dictionary. I quickly wrote my name inside in my best fourth grade penmanship and tucked it in my school desk.
When I tell this story now to friends and family they all laugh. No one believes I won a spelling contest because I can’t spell. Yes, a writer who is not a good speller – it’s true.
No one in my family can spell. I believed it was hereditary. Oh, I can spell thousands of words, but there are thousands of words I can’t spell. Dictionaries and spell-check are my friends.
Today I opened my desk drawer and saw the little red dictionary. Initially I thought of that day in fourth grade, my pride in winning and the self-confidence I felt. I picked up the reminder of my success and quickly my thoughts went to a negative place.
Why didn’t I become a great speller? Why can’t I logically sound out and spell every word I think of? What gene did my family miss out on that skewed our ability in this area?
I never won another spelling contest.
As a teenager, I was teased if I misspelled a word. As an adult, it became embarrassing if I misspelled a word in a letter or document. (People LOVE to point out your mistakes.) These experiences added fuel to my negative self-talk. Over the years the belief in my head became bigger – I can’t spell.
Do you see how easy it is to believe something? Especially if it is negative. Our ego and dreams can be squelched if we believe a story and allow it to take over our life.
After I won that spelling contest it could have gone a different way. It could have fueled my interest in winning again. I could have become the best speller in my class, my school and my family. I could be a maestro of spelling, but I am not.
My family still occasionally teases me about my poor spelling skills, and they continue to roll their eyes and laugh when I remind them that I did win a fourth grade spelling contest.
I keep this little dictionary in my desk drawer as a reminder. It’s a reminder that although my fourth grade success didn’t follow me through my life, it didn’t stop me from my dreams.
Spelling is only part of writing. I followed my dream of being a writer. I am a good writer. I quilt together words to tell stories that connect with people. In doing this I check and double-check words. I use the tools of writing- paper, pens, notebooks, computers, spell check.
And yes, I will still reach for my little red dictionary.
I did win that fourth grade spelling contest. No one believes me, but it’s true.
Pennie’s Life Lesson: Don’t let one weakness stop you from your dreams. Dream anyway.