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Embracing Spontaneity: the Lessons Learned from Debates

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 643 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jul 18, 2018

Words: 643|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jul 18, 2018

I couldn't breathe. My lungs rebelled, desperately attempting to inhale, as if I were drowning. My hands trembled. I could no longer comprehend that my impending audition speech for the Varsity debate team, which had only two spots left, was occurring in just minutes.

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“Breathe, Meghan. You’re okay.”

For much of my life, I have strived above everything else to be prepared. Perfectionism was my wingman, pushing me to excel. In the face of potential failure, however, doubt would pull me from sanguine and strong to simply… scared. The first morning of middle school, for example, I had neglected to organize my materials in my preferred size, color, and subject ordering system. I had been so excited for a new start, but my pursuit of perfect made me miss the bus and start school with a yelp rather than a roar.

The detailed research required for debate has been the ideal outlet for my desire to be prepared. At the same time, the improvisation of a debate competition has been a cure to overcome perfectionism - but it has taken a while. My first year on the team, I ordered an extra-large binder, in which I spent months filing excessive notes and collecting evidence on our 36 topics. Everything was color-coded and in its proper place. But whenever someone threw me a curveball, like a random debate topic pulled from a hat, I didn't have my mitt. This was the case back at my initial debate audition, when two teammates disputed and lost our precious prep time, so we had nothing going up to the podium.

“Breathe, Meghan. You’re okay.”

That was the Varsity coach, Mr. Kelly, who took me outside of the room when he saw me struggling. “I know you don’t feel prepared, but to compete, you have to embrace spontaneity. You’re a great speaker, but just take a deep breath, collect yourself, and keep going.” I took three deep breaths. Then, I found it in myself to gather every argument I had on the negative effects of China’s emergence as a global power, enter the room, and participate in one of the best rounds of my career. I made the team. Three years later, I’m the debate captain, and spontaneity is my new wingman.

Being a debater has taught me how to match oxfords with pencil skirts, the tricks of repairing holes in my stockings, the best methods to survive on less sleep during tournament weeks than any teenager should, and, as a result, the art of the five a.m. latte. Debate has also taught me to compose arguments in the pressure of a sixty-minute prep room, walk on stage with a few scrawled lines of reasoning, have the confidence to give speeches in front of hundreds, and speak with conviction in putting forth a rebuttal that might contradict my own beliefs.

Most importantly, what I have learned from debate applies to other parts of my life. I am now much better equipped to handle the unexpected. On my final back-to-school day this year, I wasn’t fixated on my outfit or notebooks. Instead, I was ready for the new things to come: like capitalizing on an unanticipated free block to convene and then lead our first Model UN and Habitat for Humanity meetings (without needing a 50-slide presentation). Or on opening night of our latest school play: when my fellow actor forgot his line, instead of freezing I improvised new dialogue and we didn’t miss a beat.

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Now, I embrace spontaneity - nay, I seek it! Be it answering obscure questions lobbed at me in a quiz bowl match or juggling orders, complaints, and malfunctioning blenders at my job in a smoothie store, I feel ready for anything. And whenever things feel unprepared, I take a deep breath, collect myself, and keep going, this time with my mitt out for the next curveball.

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