My daughter called Tuesday night in a panic. She is competing this week at a national speech and debate tournament and had encountered a judge whose behavior was shockingly unprofessional. He would watch thirty seconds of a performance, scrawl a nasty note like, “I hate it,” on his notepad, and then play on his phone for the rest of the performance. She was terrified that his comments would damage her chances to advance.
Unfortunately, this is life, especially for those of us involved in the arts. We have all been screwed over by ignorant and unprofessional people at least once in our careers. We’ve lost plum roles to actors who are friends of the director. We’ve received scathing comments or reviews from people who clearly did not read our books or listen to our albums. We’ve been marked down by well-intentioned judges who lacked qualifications and by judges who were just woefully inept.
In the early stages of our careers, these episodes upset or even depress us. We take them personally. As we move forward, we get cynical. This is when many artists give up and walk away. If we hang in there, though, we come to accept that this is the way things are sometimes, and not just in the arts. In corporate America, the wrong people get promoted for all the wrong reasons. In politics, the intelligent and learned candidate loses to the uninformed idiot. In the nonprofit world, some board members further their own agendas rather than the organization’s mission.
The mother in me wanted to drive to Kansas City and give that judge a piece of my mind. But the artist in me knew this was a painful but necessary lesson for my daughter to learn. Here’s what I told her: “There’s no way for you to know if his behavior hurt your chances. So tomorrow, go out there and kill it. Do the best you’ve ever done. Have the most fun you’ve ever had. Because if his ranking did affect you, at least you go out with a bang. And if it didn’t, you’ll prove to everyone you’ve earned the right to move forward. Either way, you rise above the stupidity. And that’s all we can ever do.”