By Adrianna Owens
Everyone has one or two first memories, the ones that are triggered when you catch a whiff of a familiar scent. With the scent, a blurred image of the home you grew up in resurfaces from your deepest memories. The old swing on the tree comes to life again and you can almost hear yourself laughing as your dad pushes you.
When I hear people talk about their childhood memories, I smile with them as they reminisce on the sweet taste of the first ice cream cone their mother bought them in Old Sacramento, or the time that they went to Santa Cruz and had a whole funnel cake to themselves.
Deep down, however, I am in awe that they remember things from so far back in their lives. Although everyone has those first memories, mine tend to be recent, not spanning past the fifth grade. When my mind does try to reach back to my years as a toddler, I want to repress the memories that are dug up.
Being second best or feeling rejected is something I know all too well. Growing up, I felt overshadowed by my siblings and loved less by my parents. Because of this overwhelming feeling, I turned to academics and decided to put all of my effort there.
That’s where my memories start. With school. With teachers. With essays and books and assignments. For as long as I could remember, my heart has been with my education.
When I was in fifth grade, I was put in the Gifted and Talented Education program. I remember going to school each day, feeling proud that I had achieved something. Proud that others were proud of me. I didn’t have to try and get my parents’ attention at school, because I had caught the gaze of teachers and other students.
In high school, things took a turn for me. A scheduling error placed me in my first journalism class, which I absolutely despised. I realized that I was actually great at it, and so I stuck with it. I won local awards for my writing year after year. I was finally stable again with being wanted.
Then senior year hit. I created a 50-page portfolio and entered a statewide journalism contest. After countless hours putting it together, I was confident in my skills enough to think that I would continue on to the national level.
Receiving a letter saying that I had only won second place in the California High School Journalist of the Year competition completely destroyed my confidence. It uncovered a pent-up fear of rejection that I had been pushing down for years. Gravity pulled my heart down and I felt the most pain I had felt in a while. It sounds silly, but this irrational phobia almost ate me alive.
To this day, I find myself struggling with the fear of rejection, but I have come to some sort of solace in the fact that no one is perfect. As cliche as it sounds, no one is going to be the best at everything. For anyone out there who has felt anything close to what I have felt, it is important to be comfortable with yourself and your accomplishments.
I am using my experience as fuel for my fire. We have to accept that coming in first place is not always an option. We all can’t get accepted into the school of our dreams or win the award or scholarship that we were shooting for. Just because we’re denied first place does not mean that we should slow down.
There will be other things that we will be first in. When I was a child, I sat on my grandpa’s lap as he sang to me:
“You are special, you’re the only one. You’re the only one like you.”
And though I was only a child, this still rings true. I can come in first place at just being me, because no one does it better than I can. We can’t let one rejection or loss define who we are as people.
Adrianna Owens studies journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.