My almost 9-yr old boy joined a new Chess Club last night. As part of a talk on sportsmanship, the head teacher shared the Chess Club motto: To Lose is to Learn.

That little line resonated with me in a big way last night. Earlier in the day, the kids had asked, “Mom, did people call you a nerd in high school and college?” I’ve told the kids how I was teased in school for being smart, and how they might be teased for the same thing and how to deal with it. But we had talked mostly about elementary school.

It took me a minute to think of the answer. I was teased in high school, but not in college. College was a different place, where most people attended because they were smart and where they wanted to learn things. In fact, I was not a nerd in college. In college, I wasn’t even that smart. And that was one of the hardest things I had to experience in my life.

See, everything was easy for me growing up. I was that kid who helped the teacher grade papers for extra credit because I finished my work so early. School was a breeze. I understood everything. I got As on all my papers. I was in the top percentile for everything. And I thought it would always be that way.

Then I got to college, and I was a nobody. All the great things I had done, people there had done better. I wanted to be a piano major, but since I’d only had lessons for six years, they wouldn’t let me. I was last chair in the university Symphonic Winds, despite filling the first chair and winning state festivals every year in high school. In the 80-member Honors Program I was in, I was probably the least accomplished of the entire bunch. Others had already read all the great books, they understood the great philosophical ideas, they could put together a presentation and speak to a group. Not me. I still don’t even know how I managed it all most of the time.

In all my years of “gifted” programs, I had never learned how to study and work. I had never learned what it meant to be a beginner at something. I was always the best. So when my big fishy self was taken out of my small pond and tossed into the ocean of real life, I was absolutely lost.

It still frustrates me to this day. Now I want to be a writer, and I’ve poured a couple of years into studying the craft. Still, I’m a beginner. My stories keep getting rejected. I still don’t have a body of work I can self-publish. There are other writers out there who seem to be magically great at it, but it’s hard work for me. And some days I just want to call it quits.

So I was really thankful to hear that wonderful motto last night.

To lose is to learn.

I’m glad my son is learning that now. I’m glad I’m learning that now. It means I can’t quit. I have to keep trying and keep learning and keep practicing until it becomes easy for me.

And in case you’re curious, those piano professors couldn’t keep me down. I didn’t get my degree in piano, or even music, but I still teach piano lessons to several fantastic students in my home these days. And that’s another thing I’ve realized. There are people who will think you’re not good enough, but there are others who will find you amazing. I think half of success is learning not to listen to either of them.