A week ago today, my Destination Imagination team was finding out their fate. Would they progress to the state competition or not? DI is a worldwide organization for students in all grades, elementary through college. Teams of kids choose one of seven challenges and prepare and present a student-led solution. The week leading up to the competition, my team fell apart.
There are two parts to every DI competition. The main challenge I mentioned before and an instant challenge where they walk into a room and have to act something, build something or a combination of the two. They don't know the challenge beforehand, they're under a time limit and they usually have about 5 minutes to prepare. They're judged on teamwork as well as results. My kids have no middle ground with instant challenges, they seem to either nail it or go down in flames. The week before competition, I wouldn't even let them perform their planned solution because they'd been so busy fighting during prep time. But, last Saturday, they nailed it and they knew it. They came out of instant challenge flying high.
They then performed their prepared solution to the main challenge and while it wasn't perfect, the audience laughed in the right spots, the gadget my son had worked on late the night before actually worked and they were pretty pleased with themselves. So, we found ourselves sitting among the assembled teams thinking that we did actually have a shot.
But. We didn't make the cut. We're not going to state. And my kids were all sorts of disappointed. This was the third year in a row that their team came in fourth. The top three teams advance. They had specifically chosen the evening before to focus on having fun more than winning at all costs and we did have fun. But, we all wanted to go on too. My son particularly was crushed.
It's really hard to watch their disappointment. It's hard to feel disappointment. It's something we all deal with. I believe that we generally don't do a good job of teaching our kids how to handle emotions, so here's one more lesson for my team that I'll share with you as well.
First, learn to lean in to the feelings that come your way. All of them. We're so very quick to try to get rid of feelings we don't like, the ones that hurt, but experiencing them helps us progress through them. It's very easy for me to want my son to get over his disappointment, because it hurts me to see him hurting. But, if I tell him right away all the reasons he shouldn't be disappointed, I trivialize his pain. Instead I just chose to hug him and agree.
Second, after the feelings have run their course, you can add some perspective. In this case, I'll tell my kids two things. First, we live in the most difficult county to progress from. The competition here in our regional is often more difficult than that at the state level. And they're consistently at the top. They're global material (which is the level after state), but they need to not give up. Also, I'll remind them that three days before, they couldn't get through the planning part of an instant challenge. And they were right, they nailed it on Saturday. As a matter of fact, they took first place in that portion of the competition. Two days before competition, after watching them perform, parents didn't understand the story line of their performance at all. And in one day, they reworked it enough to merit a fourth place standing. That's pretty amazing. But, this perspective is only really meaningful and helpful after the emotions have run their course. Too often, we introduce this perspective too soon.
The third step is accept and reset. One of the lines in their show was, "Ok, well, that just happened, I guess I'll get back to studying cancer." There comes a moment, when accepting the disappointment and moving on becomes necessary.
Lastly, they reach a point where they can learn from it. Next season we'll spend some time talking about the decisions they made that created problems for them this year. Hopefully, they'll make different choices next time. I hope so anyway, because the last few weeks were crazy stressful.
There are four steps to dealing with disappointment in a healthy way:
The team chooses their name each year and this group has always used "Phoenix" as part of that name. At this point, I find the phoenix a worthy symbol for them as a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. They'll try again. And even if they never move above regional level, they've gained so very much and I am so very proud of them.
Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone Lock Screen: Daily questions to apply the above article to your own life and the episode artwork as a phone lock screen.