No one believes me, but it is true. When I was in 4th-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 4th-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. The countertop where my 4th-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 4th-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 that 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-checking programs are my friends.
Today I opened my desk drawer and saw the little red dictionary. Initially I thought of that day in 4th 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 4th-grade spelling contest.
I keep this little dictionary in my desk drawer as a reminder. A reminder that although my 4th-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 4th-grade spelling contest. No one believes me, but it’s true!
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Pennie’s Life Lesson:
Don’t let one weakness stop you from your dreams.
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