Did you know that you can burn snack chips as kindling if you need to start a fire and can't find any twigs or brush? You can and I can tell you that Ruffles Sour Cream & Cheddar make the best choice, as they have the longest burning and most consistent flame.
You know, just in case you are on your way to a Super Bowl party and get trapped in a blizzard.
I know this because this was the experiment Quinn, my nine year old, chose for his science fair project this year.
Like many of you, we knew about the science fair project for a long time but put it off. On the eve of the deadline to submit a project idea, I heard him standing in the kitchen with his dad, poking around for inspiration for a project.
"What about burning nuts?" he said, while popping a peanut in his mouth.
Before he could finish the thought, I jumped up from the couch in the living room and announced, "You can use Doritos as fire kindling! You should totally burn chips and see which one is the best."
Quinn loved the idea and immediately starting jotting down materials and his proposed process. When it came time to fill out the project proposal, I ran the "stuck in a blizzard on the way to a Super Bowl party" storyline by him, suggesting that a hook would capture the reviewer's imagination, but to no avail.
"This is science, Mom. Not storytelling. This isn't what you do."
A box on the form asked if he wanted to enter his science project in the actual science fair or just do it for the class grade. Quinn didn't hesitate when he checked the box for just the class grade. When asked, he said he had absolutely no interest in entering the science fair, in part because this was his first science project.
Jump to a few weeks later. It's the day the science project is due. With glue still drying, I drop him off at school and wish him luck, knowing he'll ace it because he checked and double-checked the grading rubric and completed all requirements.
By the time I pulled into our driveway less than a mile from the elementary school, I had the following text from Quinn's teacher:
"Are you sure Quinn doesn't want to enter his project into the science fair? It is so cool! I asked him if he wanted to because I thought it was awesome and he said yeah. Is that okay with you?"
That boy did the project as much on his own as was safe, given the whole lighting things on fire aspect. His dad helped with the lighter and I helped him by typing exactly what he dictated to me in order to save time.
He was proud. And now he was willing to risk rejection by entering his work into the science fair. But not before someone told him it was awesome first.
Shoot. Y'all. I think I may have taught him that.
Inadvertently, but still. I may have taught him that's it better to try for something when you've already been, well, approved.
And that, folks, isn't really trying. It's not risk.
I've done this my whole life.
When I was in high school, one of my teachers told my parents at a Parents' Night meeting that, "Megan doesn't volunteer to lead anything. But she always ends up being the leader. She's a natural." He was right.
When I wanted a literary agent, I didn't create a proposal and query agents. I worked on my writing my own way (for years) and hoped that an agent would find me. One did and it's an awesome agency who I will make proud.
When I want something that I know I'm right for, I don't necessarily go after it directly. Instead, I position myself to be the heir apparent, to be in the sight line of those who I should be pursuing and subtly try to line things up so they think choosing me was their idea.
But I'm cheating myself and those around me. I'm not learning anything valuable by avoiding the risk of rejection and I'm complicating everything. Not to mention that it's not fair to the people who do stick their necks out, who do step up early, who submit their wishes on time and with their hope bared.
I protect my hope like a precious egg.
I cushion my hope with pillows of lies about how I don't really want that thing, anyway, and if it's meant to be it will be. I shield it from the light of day so no one can see it and offer to help me hatch it. Because what if they drop it? I'd rather they didn't even know I have it.
Because what if they do drop it and see all my dreams spill out? What if they laugh at me? Because who do I think I am? Who am I to have such hope?
When you hide your hope from the warmth of others, you end up with sulfurous dreams. It stinks.
Our hope needs fresh air, much like a kindled flame. When Quinn tried to burn his chips flat on the baking sheet he used, they wouldn't stay lit. He had to prop the chips on a little ball of tin for support, letting air get under the chip.
In the end, I did let Quinn enter his project in the science fair. He didn't win a damn thing. But he did get an A. He deserved an A. He probably didn't deserve to win a ribbon, even if his project was worthy.
I'm glad he didn't win a ribbon. Omitting the rejection process omits the value of the win. Protecting our pride denies us the hard-won gains of experience. I'm working on teaching him that now.
I am working on teaching my kids to ask for what they want, to harness their confidence in their abilities and use that energy to burn through the fog of fear of rejection.
This is a story of hope and confidence and a proposal on humility and pride.
There is pleasure in being picked for something. I think that's why I don't always step up right away. I am addicted to the feeling of stepping in and helping. My confidence in knowing that I can accomplish the task at hand never wavers, but my confidence in my ability to convince others does. Because who am I to have such confidence?
I don't always want to be the leader. Most of the time, I don't. I enjoy watching others lead, particularly love experiencing someone discover their leadership talent for the first time. I don't usurp existing leaders and I don't sow seeds of discontent so that I can step in.
But when I do want to lead? I don't always step up. I wait and hope to be asked. I spend my time, while I'm waiting, proving myself and my worth, honing the talents that I know to be useful. That approach is... no longer my favorite.
I'm working on stepping up instead of only stepping in. I'm working on risking rejection by letting my hopes show.
Now tell me: What makes you ask yourself, "Who am I to...?"
What do you want to pursue but are afraid to risk to rejection?
photo credits iStock: flowers, egg
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