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Keeping up with Kincaid: are there trophies involved?

Laken Kincaid
Editor-in-Chief, Laken Kincaid, reflects on their thoughts from the past week.

“No matter how hard you tried, no matter how worthy your intentions, if you reached your goal but did not outperform your peers, the achievement feels hollow. Like all competitors, you need other people. You need to compare. If you can compare, you can compete, and if you can compete, you can win. And when you win, there is no feeling quite like it…”
– Gallup CliftonStrengths on Competition

One part of growing up is accepting who you are. Since I have to be a full-fledged adult in just two short months, it is about time that I overcome my consistent denial that competitiveness does not run my life. While humility is admirable and learning from failures is a persistent (and almost annoying) moral behind so many tales of geniuses, it is impossible for me to set aside my drive for success. Well, no, not success inherently; this is ultimately about an ambition rooted in pride.

I have always followed the “if you’re not first, you’re last” mantra. To prepare for my fifth-grade spelling bee, I spent hours learning various homonyms and phrases at my kitchen countertop for the sheer purpose of winning a trophy. Even the “friendly” accelerated reader competitions in elementary school where I would shed tears onto dusty hardback novels like “The Magic Treehouse” and “Dork Diaries” were not spawned by a lust for education, but instead by a need for gratification. If someone else had more points at the end of the school year, they could bet that I would be spending all of my recess consuming as much literature as possible, just to edge them out of a title.

That’s so toxic, right? A burnt out gifted kid had to be a proper gifted kid at one point in time and that is usually quantified by the student’s love of learning. Even though I do fit cleanly into this honors docent stereotype (ADHD and all), I only wanted to win at the end of the day and the process to the finish line was arbitrary.

These traits carried over into middle school through history bowl tournaments, steel drum solos and junior varsity sports where I was not even good enough to get play time during the big games. In everything I did, I had to be the best. If I wasn’t the best, then my efforts were multiplied, even if my natural talents did not promote my advancements.

Eventually, in high school, I gave up on the endeavors that led to dead ends. Athletics fell to the wayside as those with higher metabolisms conquered the court and I realized I had no place in the world of sweatbands and referee whistles. With this newfound free time, I transitioned to a hyperfocus on where my abilities could shine their best such as battles of the mind and soul. Obviously I am talking about the revolutionary and totally not nerdy activity of speech and debate.

Now, I am here, typing this reflection in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on the way back from one of my last speech and debate tournaments, in between swigs of an entirely too expensive and watered-down iced mocha. I have been a proud member of John Carroll’s speech and debate team for all four years of my collegiate career and I do not regret a single second of it. From late nights seeking out arguments from slightly skewed think tanks to early mornings driving in a minivan with four to the backseat, this experience has been one of the most rewarding ones that I could have ever asked for. I suppose the plaques clanking around in my suitcase somewhere above the Cleveland aether make it extra sweet.

But would I have this same adoration for the activity if I was not successful this past weekend? I do see a universe where this column is entirely ajar and tears apart my lackluster performance at Glendale Community College, broadcasting it for all to read. Yes, I have some nice hardware to decorate my quaint little suite with, but is that what makes me fawn over my time competing? In between exhausting rounds of limited prep news scripting and flagrantly throwing toothpicks on the ground to illustrate the importance of recognizing and appreciating neurodiversity, I told my teammates, “I am so sorry for how I may act if awards don’t go in our favor.”

The whole week, I was up front and honest about my tendencies; one of my commonly said quotes was “I do not like the person that competition makes me become.” When I got to speak with my fellow debaters after our rounds of verbal sparring, even when they would engage with me with nothing but kindness, a growling voice in the back of my mind would not let me fully appreciate their warmth. I could not let myself trust what could be a potential facade of just another competitive kid who wants nothing more than their name on an accolade in Times New Roman font.

This was exhausting.

While I did admit to overcoming my denial that my competitive nature is suffocating at the beginning of this column, I do not have a strategy for accessing the next stage of grief in this transformative journey. Don’t get me wrong, I desperately want to turn a page and see the silver and gold as nothing more than memories. However, these behaviors are hardwired by years of continuous strife and cemented by the fire in my being of always having to be the best.

Who knows if I can grow out of this self-destructive pattern? Perhaps it is something that makes me who I was on the basketball court in sixth grade and who I am speaking behind a podium. Yet, I think if there was a contest as to who could care the least about awards, I would desperately try to shed this heavy skin, if anything for another accomplishment on my ledger.

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About the Contributor
Laken Kincaid
Laken Kincaid, Editor-in-Chief
Laken Kincaid is the Editor-in-Chief for The Carroll News from Beckley, West Virginia. They are a senior at John Carroll University who is double majoring in political science and communications (digital media) and minoring in leadership development. Laken has written for The Carroll News since the start of their freshman year and has previously served as a staff reporter, campus section editor and managing editor of the paper. They have received 18 Best of SNO awards, a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for Region 4 and two honorable mentions from the College Media Association. They have also been recognized by universities like Georgetown for their investigative reports. Additionally, they also write political satire for The Hilltop Show and feature stories on global poverty for The Borgen Project. In addition to their involvement with The Carroll News, Laken is involved with the Kappa Delta sorority, the speech and debate team, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Improv club and other organizations. They also serve as the news director for WJCU 88.7, John Carroll's own radio station, and as the president for John Carroll's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.  Laken also started their own national nonprofit organization known as Art with the Elderly which they have won the President's Volunteer Service Award and the Humanity Rising Award for. When not writing, Laken can be found doing graphic design for their internship with Union Home Mortgage or working as a resident assistant and peer learning facilitator on campus. Laken also enjoys skiing and watching true crime documentaries. In the future, Laken hopes to become a political journalist for a national news organization or to be a campaign commercial editor for politicians. To contact Laken, email them at [email protected].

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