I’d like to be able to blame debate. But I don’t think I can. I think I was probably just as success-driven and attention-starved before I became literally obsessed with an activity that only feeds those desires. I was competitive in other ways, driven and focused on success in other areas, and constantly critiquing and comparing myself based on other standards. Debate just gave me a new competition. I had a different place to lay all my energy, talent, and my heart. And it was even easier to get sucked in. Debate took all those things I struggled with and all those qualities I already possessed, and made them infinitely more problematic. And the better I got, the more competitive I became. The more I won, the more unsatisfying wins became. The more all-consuming this activity became, the emptier it made me feel.
But you know what? I’m glad it happened. I’m glad I stumbled upon an activity that would challenge me- mentally, academically, and oddly enough, spiritually. God’s approval was not enough before debate, but debate made me more aware of this gnawing feeling that I was never going to be good enough. The feeling I thought would go away in high school when I got an A in an impossible class or got into a more prestigious school than my classmates. The feeling that still didn’t go away after each debate I won, each tournament I won, each time someone told me I was good.
It’s amazing, really. How you can accumulate dozens of awards, compliments, recognition. And it only takes a single slightly negative comment to make you forget all of them. I’ve been slowly (incredibly slowly) been learning that when I allow success to define me, it works both ways- it gives me joy when I get it, and it’s devastating when I don’t. So it doesn’t seem like I’m obsessed when things are going great. It’s only when it all comes crashing down that I realize how far gone I’ve become.
So maybe debate did exaggerate and intensify all those qualities, insecurities, and struggles I already had. But I’m glad. Because it forced me to confront the root cause of those problems- putting my identity in something other than God. It could have been anything, really. Any competitive activity that played into my own sense that my worth was determined by success and the opinions of other people.
It’s a long process, and it isn’t always fun. Sometimes my own ambition shuts out that inner voice that is trying to tell me to remember the truth. Remember what you know in your head is true but you struggle to feel is true in your heart. You are loved. Your worth is defined by the one that made you, not the success you achieve. The Creator of the universe calls you “child” and is not interested in the debates you’ve won or the human approval you acquire. He cares about a greater battlefield- your soul and those of the people you touch.