Nagging to Excellence


iStock_000012148387XSmallJust the other night my husband and I were talking about the people who inspired us to become people of initiative. We are both natural competitors. Neither of us can stand not to do a job, even the smallest one, well. Initiative is one of our natural traits: We see something falling through the cracks—we do something about it, even if it is not our responsibility. These things are inherent within us, but along the way, people in our lives have nurtured this trait.

One of those key people in my life was my sister.

My sister NAGGED me into excelling. When I was in high school, she found out about an essay and quiz contest for high school students who wanted to win a trip to Washington, D.C. I still was in the mode of thinking that other people, not me, won essay and quiz contests. But my sister would not stop badgering me. So I wrote “the blasted essay” to get her off my back…and I was selected to advance to the quiz contest.

That was my first recognition for academic achievement outside of good grades. I liked it. So I started studying the nearly 200 pages of history about the Rural Electric Membership Cooperative to try to win that trip to Washington, D.C., because I kinda’ wanted to go.  My sister was right there by my side. Quizzing.  Badgering.  Bothering.

The night of the quiz contest, when there were only  two contestants  left, fighting tooth and nail for that last spot on the trip, my sister was in the audience when, after a long and arduous duel, we displayed different answers to a question. The audience gasped. The tension was palpable. I breathed a long sigh of relief when the emcee confirmed my answer was the right one. I was going to Washington, D.C. with 30 other high school students from Georgia and about 1,000 others from around the U.S.

My first taste of victory. Suddenly I was one of the people who wins. And I kept trying: V.F.W. Voice of Democracy speech contests, scholarship competitions, summer enrichment programs. I fell flat on my face many times, getting all kinds of rejection letters, but I kept getting up and trying again—all because my sister had pushed me once to try something  I wouldn’t have even considered trying without her, um, encouragement. Then she stood by me while I tried.

There were others as well, but Liz did something special in getting me through that first contest. She worked every bit as hard as I did.

And I think that is why I remember it so. She was just as invested in my success as I was, and she had nothing to gain. She was already married and out of the house, so she wasn’t even getting rid of a bratty little sister for a week—she was actually losing a babysitter.

But If I got discouraged she kicked me into gear (she’s my big sister, there was none of this kind “pick me up and dust me off gently nonsense”).  She helped me prepare. She helped me win, and she helped me celebrate.

And she continued to do that. Through the rest of high school. Throughout college, graduate school, and even now as I figure out how to be a parent. “Really Michele, you need to just…”

So, ask yourself, who have you NAGGED to victory lately? Is there someone who needs   you to invest in his or her success as much as or more than they can right now? Who can you nurture into the winners’ circle?

©2016 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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