When it comes to most amazing experiences of my life, the International Biology Olympiad is up there – and I’ve lived a pretty privileged life. I’ve seen the pyramids. I’ve seen glow-worms. I’ve been up the Eiffel tower. But there’s a difference between seeing things, and being completely awe-inspired by the world, and being somewhere full of people like you. It’s no secret that I was a massive nerd in high school, and the IBO was also full of people that were massive nerds in high school. It genuinely felt like I had found the people I should have known all my life. They are the largest branch of my extended family, no matter what happens.
At the opening ceremony, one of the speakers made particularly sure to remind us, time and again, that we were all already winners. It’s a sentiment that you don’t get very much, and I can genuinely say it was the first time I believed it.
That sentiment has become a large part of my daily life, and I remember it particularly when away on tournaments. It’s a very different sentiment to that you get at debating tournaments, where the competition is most definitely that – a lot of the time, when squads get stressed or upset by close debates or things they perceive as “failures”, I really want to sit them down and say:
But don’t you understand? Simply by being here, you’ve won. If you’re in O1, O2, O3, O4, if you’re here as an adjudicator, you’ve shown that you’re the best Otago has to offer. No matter what happens here, you made it here, and that in and of itself is a success.
Debating puts a lot of pressure on people, and either attracts or creates a lot of highly-strung high achievers that might not believe that their best is enough. I would probably be the first person to tell you that I’m not a great speaker – I’m decent, I’ve broken to semifinals in both the available amateur tournaments we have and then proceeded to flake horrendously – but that has never really mattered to me, because debating is always something I have done for the joy in it.
I want Otago to host Australs next year, simply so I can have a chance to tell these talented, well-spoken young men and women that they are all already winners, simply for being here. I hope that they will believe it, because too many people get inordinately down on themselves because they fail to measure up to some abstract idea of “good enough”.