I’ve had this on my mind since the news of FIRST’s canceling the remainder of this season came down, but I wanted to wait a couple days to say it. Perhaps fewer people will see this now, but I hope those of you who do come with a clearer mind now.
To those of you who are still down about being denied your chances to play this year, especially #TheUndefeateds, I understand. Several wise members of our community have encouraged you to look on the bright side—how much you’ve learned, what friends you’ve made, what experiences you’ve forged in the fires of a build season—but it can be challenging to see the forest for the one massive tree of disappointment standing in front of you. Competitions are, in truth, the lifeblood of FRC. I’m deeply sorry and saddened for those of you who won’t get those experiences this year. With the uncertainty surrounding what comes next, it feels even worse. It is okay to sit with those thoughts and let yourself feel them.
Once you have taken a moment for that, however, let us continue.
Before you go, try to take stock of where you have been in FIRST. My resume as a student was decidedly mixed—two district wins, but also some horrible clunkers where nothing worked and every minute was spent trying to salvage any iota of functionality from the robot before the next thing broke. In short, perhaps my experiences were a lot like many of yours. Most of us never win a world championship, and so there is always a nagging string of what ifs at the end of every season. So it goes—that does not stop FIRST from providing us with such wonderful moments along the way.
I have so many vivid memories, both good and bad, from my time—mesmerizing a crowd of elementary schoolers with our 2012 robot in a demo and making good on a bet to let the team shave my head in the pits after we won an event, but also hearing fifteen distinct thwacks in the 3-point goal as we got steamrolled by the first alliance ever to complete a perfect autonomous period in 2013 and admitting to my team that our climber—the device I had led and come to champion—was an irredeemable failure and needed to be scrapped after one event that same year. You have those experiences as well, even without this year of events. Think about what moments define your FIRST career.
Now, take the long view.
This program is not a four-month sprint or even a four-year marathon during which you race to achieve glory. It is an ever-replenishing wellspring of fulfillment to drink in and then pass along to the students who come after you. Your story need not end when you graduate from your team. I am five years removed from high school, and have been a mentor for nearly as long (I know, not recommended, story for another day).
Look forward. Envision yourself in my shoes, five years on, with an entirely new set of wide-eyed faces ready to embark on this great roller coaster ride we call an FRC season with you. You will always have a hole in your story, but so much more will have grown in around it. I can say now that mentoring has given me more joy even than competing as a student. The moments of inspiration, the successes and failures, are somehow all the more valuable when you get to see them in others than when you have them yourself. It has been an unbelievable growth experience for me to learn how to mentor—I dare say more valuable than what I learned while competing. I have developed a true sense of pride in my current team, in a way I could never have imagined as a high school senior. And even better, there is no expiration date on this. Competing brought me in, but mentoring is what keeps me around. Your perspective may change as well if you let it.
I hope you can find room to hold all those thoughts in your mind. It is truly sad that you will be remembered partly for your common misfortune this year, but you have so much more outside of these lost events that you can draw on, and your FIRST story is far from over. Stay in the present, remember the past, and look to the future. All three are important for processing this news.
Keep some of our FIRST mantras with you as you go forward. Do the math, save the world. What would Woodie do? And find a way to practice gracious professionalism wherever you can. Above all, if you can remember those, your time in FIRST has been a success.