“It’s just the luck of the draw,” the Guest Pronouncer told the contestants at the beginning of the regional Spelling Bee last year, explaining that he doesn’t select words for the spellers. Shortly after, her luck ran out in the second round and Speller No. 4 was given the word “tangential.”
A small smile grew slowly across her face which I knew to mean, ‘Uh oh.’
“Tangential?” she asked.
“Tangential,” he nodded.
“That is incorrect,” the Guest Pronouncer pronounced.
She could’ve asked for the language of origin. She could’ve asked for the definition. She didn’t. She took her best stab at it, but she missed the mark.
“I got lucky,” she told me two weeks earlier when she came home after the qualifying competition at her school. A few of her words in that contest had been pretty easy — “furious” and “celery” were among the dozen or so words she had to spell that day. Other students were given more difficult words.
During the two weeks leading up to this particular Western Region Spelling Bee competition, she had occasionally asked us to give her words to spell. Or she pulled out the dictionary to flip through it. Once, we got on the website for five minutes to take a practice test before having to run out the door.
But she was a little too busy with two different basketball teams, homework, and friends to do any serious practice, a la “Akeelah and the Bee.”
Maybe she was just hoping she’d get lucky again. She made it through the first round where one third of the 15 students misspelled their first word. She was fortunate, she would testify, to be given the word testimony. And then she got one of the most difficult words of the evening. The luck stopped there.
She had a good attitude about it and didn’t seem to feel it was a cruel twist of fate. She didn’t even seem frustrated that she happened to know one of the other tough words of the evening, “toxicosis.”
The final two students were from the same school and seemed unusually calm, confident, and knowledgeable. They were very methodical and intentional in their approach, always asking for the definition or language of origin or both, even with a word like “engineer.”
“They asked for definitions just to be sure they had heard the word correctly and for knowledge of the root word,” the Spelling Bee coordinator from their school later told me.
And they both practiced beforehand.
“One of them studied for 30 minutes to an hour a day for two weeks,” she continued. “The other practiced with someone calling words out to him. One of them said that as he studied he looked at the word on the page, then looked up and spelled it aloud. There were student study lists on the Spelling Bee website and that’s what they used.”
So, it wasn’t simply the luck of the draw. It helps to practice. It helps to be prepared. It helps to take whatever you are doing seriously enough that you invest time and effort in it because you may see a return in that investment. It helps to give your best effort — and then hope for the best luck.
The boy who came in second missed the word “tandoori.” The boy who won the regional competition that night was able to correct the pronunciation of “tandoori” for the Guest Pronouncer to the amusement of the audience, spell the word correctly, and then move on to spell “decaffeinate.” He got a little lucky. But he was also prepared.
Sometimes it appears that some people are just lucky in life. They get a good education, they get a good job, they have a happy marriage, and they raise a nice family. But how much of that was preparation? Did they work hard in school and apply to the best college they could afford? Did they actually spend more time in the library and hitting the books than they did hitting the parties on campus? Did they pursue a career that interested them and in which they could excel? Did they fall in love with a good person who loved them back? Did they invest time and energy in their children, making a healthy family life a top priority?
Sometimes, people do all those things, and still, somehow, it doesn’t all work out. Somewhere along the line, they seem to be handed a raw deal or a fate twisted into knots. All those good choices and hard work couldn’t protect them from a drunk driver, a cancerous cell, or the bad choices of someone they love. A series of unfortunate events still landed in their lap. Bad things happen to good and hard-working people, too.
That’s why it helps to be prepared spiritually, to recognize that you aren’t in control. You didn’t simply create your wonderful life — there are other factors at play. But, if you invest in your character, if you grow, develop, and mature as an individual, and if you try to nurture a well-fed soul, then you may be better prepared to manage “bad luck” when it comes your way.
“Their advice was to be an optimist, but not over confident,” the Spelling Bee coordinator told me about the two boys. That sounds like good advice for life as well as spelling, because sometimes it is simply the luck of the draw so we should remain hopeful but never expect things to always go our way.
Jaletta Albright Desmond is a self-syndicated columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in Davidson with her husband and two daughters. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org