My Last-Place Trophy
Many years ago, I won a third-place trophy in a piano competition.
Except it wasn't really third-place, because an "Adjudicator's Award" ranked above 1st place... so it was really a fourth-place trophy.
And in that particular segment of the competition, there were only four people entered.
So I actually got a trophy for finishing last.
When I got home, I threw that mockingly small, last-place trophy in the garbage.
My mother saw the trophy sitting in the trash. She knew I was upset with my performance at the competition, but also realized there was an important lesson to be learned.
She came to my room and reminded me how in the weeks leading up to the competition, whenever she had encouraged me to practice the piece I'd be performing, I'd avoid doing so and imply my natural ability would effortlessly earn me the top spot. She not-so-gently suggested I had earned exactly the trophy I deserved.
And she was absolutely right.
That competition was in 1988, and it was the very last time I went into anything unprepared or underestimating my competition's desire to win.
There's a box of first-place trophies and plaques sitting somewhere in my basement.
That tiny last place trophy I pulled from the trash is the only one on display in my office.