A story about fishing, losing, winning, and defining success.
I remember the first time I was really excited to “achieve” something. My middle eastern parents decided it would be good for us to attend one of those family summer camps. It would be packed with all types of American past-times good for young boys: bonfires, group games, cafeteria food, and sleeping outside. Pure American summer.
The Fishing Competition
The details of the trip are fuzzy, but I do remember one thing vividly: the fishing competition. The idea was that campers had to catch the most fish without a traditional fishing pole. The camper who caught the most weight in fish within an allotted period of time would win their very own fishing pole—something I’d always wanted as a young boy hopping around the midwest.
Once the clock began, I grabbed some spare fishing line, a knife from the kitchen, a hook that one of the camp counselors gave me, and some worms that I’d been collecting in a styrofoam cup that I creatively titled it: WORMS
I tied the fishing line around the knife and affixed the hook and worms to the bottom of the line. With a firm grip on the handle of the knife, I dropped the bait into the water and waited for the bounty of fish to arrive.
I Thought I Was Winning
To my surprise, I started catching a small fish here and there. I’d store them in a metal basket and keep fishing. I thought I was catching more fish than all the campers around me and in my little-boy-mind’s-eye, I began to envision accepting my shiny new fishing pole!
But then, I looked to the end of the dock where two brothers seemed to have found a goldmine of fish. For every fish I caught, it seemed like they caught five.
My chances of winning were gone.
Time Was Up
I caught a few more fish, but the time ran out. The camp counselors came around to weigh our fish. I didn’t even care to look at the scale, I knew I’d lost. The brothers, on the other hand, were ecstatic. I could hear their gleeful shouts and high fives with the counselors.
Being the sensitive little boy I was, I just sat on the dock, put my head in my hands, and cried. I even stayed there through the awards ceremony. I didn’t want to NOT hear my name get called.
As the sun began to set, I heard my mom call my name. I began to get up from the dock, my head hanging low in the shame of defeat, only to be greeted by her jubilant Egyptian voice, “Look Victor! You win! You win a pole! Third place!”
Wait, there were multiple prizes?! Third place?! I won?!?
She gave me a big hug and we examined my first-ever fishing pole—a bright green children’s pole with fancy lettering and a reel with fishing line and everything. It was a glorious moment.
Conversation With Myself
I wish I could go sit on the dock with that little Victor. I wish we could talk about why getting that pole was so important. And why achievement mattered. I’d ask him if he’d had fun making his own fishing rig, catching all those fish, and being at camp on a beautiful day. I think we’d have a good conversation.
And maybe that’s the conversation we all need to have more of these days.
PS: This was written as part of a weekly newsletter called Wednesday Words. Receive the full issue with extras in your inbox at: bit.ly/wednesdaywords