I enter everything. Ev-er-y-thing. Raffles, lotteries, online sweepstakes, writing contests … if there’s something to be won, I’m totally there. I’ve endured more than my share of ridicule for this, especially for buying state lottery tickets, and my response is always, “Hey, someone wins. It’s not like it’s a scam and they never give the money away.” Occasionally, I even win. Last spring, I won a $10 gift certificate and a bag of groceries in a local market raffle. In July, I won $425 in the Fantasy Five lottery, and today I was notified that I won an online essay contest. The contest was to write 350 words on something in your life, so I wrote this piece about the rural area where I live:
“After nearly a lifetime as a city dweller, I left the traffic, smog, and crowds of Los Angeles for the beauty and serenity of a small rural community in central California and quickly realized that I had a lot to learn.
The people here are warm and friendly, never too hurried to stop for a chat. To avoid a neighbor’s eye or mutter a brisk hello while moving on will not endear you. True, I’ve had to avoid grocery shopping during peak hours or risk my ice cream becoming a puddled mess in my cart, but when you’re sick or have lost a loved one, you can count on this whole community to wrap you in its arms.
There’s not much nightlife, so people entertain mostly at home. For my very first dinner invitation the host carefully instructed me to avoid driving over the wet cow paddies as they would splash up on my car and create quite a mess. I agreed to be mindful of that and thanked him for his advice. However, not in all my years had I ever received such an instruction and I couldn’t help thinking it odd. Not so much that he would caution me to avoid driving over wet cow paddies, but that he would just take it for granted that I’d be able to tell the wet ones from the dry ones. As I drove to their home that night, it seemed a good idea to simply avoid all of them, which I did. I’m just grateful the sheriff wasn’t around to watch my car zigzagging down the road as I’m certain I would have been arrested on the spot.
As a newcomer, I was eager to plant a vegetable garden. It can only be learned by experience that two zucchini plants are more than enough, and that if you don’t lock your car here in the summer people will fill it with the green stuff. As for our dress code, you don’t want to be walking around looking too clean. If you don’t smell like a horse or a cow and have at least one trace of some kind of manure somewhere on your person, people will think you work for the government and regard you with suspicion … but I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
The prize was nine books of their choice which, as an avid reader I’m thrilled about. But winning isn’t just about the prizes, it’s about the thrill—the feeling that for that brief moment you were just a little bit better or luckier than the next guy. It’s like the joke that goes, “It’s not enough for me to be thin, my friends must also be fat.” That may sound bitchy, but come on … you all know exactly what I’m talking about. We live in a competitive society. From the time we’re kids playing soccer or being on the swim team, it’s pretty much drummed into our heads that winning is a freakin‘ big deal.
For me, entering contests is kind of a metaphor for how I’ve lived my life. I have gambling blood in my veins. My grandfather trained and raced horses for a living. My father, when he was around, would show up with a fur coat for my mom one week and we’d be scrambling to pay the rent the next. You’d think such instability would make me cautious and a seeker of security, but it had just the opposite effect. Being used to instability and having survived it, it made me unafraid to go for outrageous things like a career in Hollywood and actually believe I could achieve it. It made me totally used to times when I had no money and no idea how I would pay my bills or buy food because my mother always told me, “There’s always a way,” and damned if something didn’t turn up to pull my butt from the fire just in time.
So how does this relate to entering contests? If you enter, you may not win, but if you don’t enter, you sure as hell aren’t going to win. So if there’s something you want to do in life—a career switch, a move to a new city, a return to school, whatever—just go for it! Because playing it safe? That’s for losers.