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My sisters and I were sitting on the edge of the town pool, after a swim meet. It usually played like this: my younger sister would hold up a first-place ribbon. She was a fish in water and almost always won, anytime she entered a race. The grin on her face was infectious, you could not help but smile along with her. 

My older sister was holding up a second-place ribbon. Her long legs always got her to the end of the pool in short order, way ahead of those lagging behind. She’s laughing in the photo, elated with her efforts.

Then there was me. You can tell that I’m crying. My little face is miserable, cheeks tear-stained, mouth a grim, quivering line. The ribbon I’m holding says “Best Attempt.”

I came in last. Again.

Some people ask me today why I kept trying as my pain is so palpable. I never came in first. Not once. I smile with raw emotion.

Losing was painful, for sure. I remember that mixture of shame and embarrassment. I recall that strong desire to never show up, to never swim in front of what seemed like the whole town of Franklin again. 

But, the love of my parents always took over. They’d come to every meet, cheering each of us on. Afterwards, they’d hug Laurie and tell her how proud they were that she had won the first-place spot. They would hold Norma close, talking about how her legs and arms sliced through the water, winning her second place. 

When mom and dad stood in front of me, they’d crouch down low, where I was sobbing. They would kiss my cheek and tell me how proud they were that I “showed up,” that I never “gave up.” The fact that I came in last was never mentioned. The fact that I kept swimming, even after everyone else was out of the pool, drying off, was applauded.

I knew the outcome of the race; they knew it too. They chose to focus on the fact that I stayed in the game, even when it’d be so much easier to throw in the towel, to never try again. 

I learned so much from my childhood. I learned that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. I learned that never giving up was as important, if not more so, than the race itself. My parents taught me that I can go at my own pace, in life experience and in creative undertakings. 

You might not have 100-plus travel articles out in the universe yet, or even one. You might not have more than a handful of images up and running on stock sites, or fine art hanging in galleries and coffee shops where you live. So what? 

The question is this: Have you shown up? Are you still in the game? Have you made the decision to never give in, to do what it takes to become a successful travel writer or photographer?

Me? I kept on swimming. My strokes got stronger, the more I practiced. Eventually I landed that second-place ribbon. More importantly, I got first place in the “stick-to-it-ness” arena. 

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