3 reasons I like contests

Shortly after my husband and I got married, I entered a contest for a free trip to England.

It was 1990, and British Airways had advertised a worldwide sweepstakes. In a stroke of marketing genius, the airline had determined to fill the sky on April 23 (Shakespeare’s birthday) with free passengers in all the seats of every British Airways flight that day. Contest applicants would vie for one of three categories, with multiple thousands at the lowest level, hundreds at the middle level and only five winners at the top level. Here were the possible rewards:

  • Lowest Level: free airfare for two + 1 night in London
  • Middle Level: free airfare for two + 1 night in London and a travel to one other country
  • Grand Prize: free airfare for two + 1 night in London and travel to two other countries

I’m all about as many countries as possible, but since this was in my first year of teaching middle school and we only had $400 in the bank, I set my sights on the lowest level prize (as if I had any control over if I could win and what I could win). I was hopeful and excited because:

  1. I was and have always been an Anglophile. (Check out my Pinterest if you don’t believe me.)
  2. My mother and I were both English teachers at the same school (she taught high school), and we were insanely interested in going to England.
  3. Who doesn’t love a free trip?
Yep, my eyes are closed. Pre-selfie, pre-digital, pre-easy photography. At the Victoria statue, outside Buckingham Palace.

As logic or naïveté would dictate, I entered myself twice, my mother twice, and my husband twice, just to increase our chances of going. I cut the sweepstakes form out of the newspaper, photocopied it 5 times, and filled out 6 forms, put them in 6 envelopes, and mailed them to the British Airways address.

The odds of my winning were about 100,000 to one, but I was never good at math, so I thought entering 6 times was pretty clever.

My husband actually won. Lowest level. We had a free trip to England, and my husband subjugated himself to a lot of castles, museums, and gardens to make me happy. We had no credit cards yet (you had to earn actual credit to get cards in those days–we were just 22 & 23), but we had that $400. So we emptied our bank account and toured London with $200 (because we spent the other $200 to see a show in the West End while we were there). We ate cheap, rented a room in a stranger’s house (90s version of an AirBnB), and walked or took the Tube everywhere.

You can always put money in the bank. You can’t always win a sweepstakes.

It would take almost 20 years for me to get back to England. My brother and I took my mom (I took one son along) after Mom retired from teaching. (That trip cost a lot more than $400, I can tell you.) Last year, I went back again with my husband and our sons. I’ll be returning this summer for another trip, as a school chaperone.

When you fall in love with a place, you keep going back. Even if you don’t have a lot of money. One of the surprising benefits of winning a sweepstakes.

At Dover Castle, a must-see
At Stonehenge–you guessed it–another must-see.

I don’t often win contests (technically, I’ve never won a contest), but I sure have entered a lot of them. Many turned out to be timeshare sales-pitches, so word to the wise there. But winning a real contest–that’s a particular kind of joy.

Contests are competition therapy.

I like contests because they push me to

  1. Appreciate a win
  2. Welcome the unexpected
  3. Relinquish control

I’m speaking as a person who doesn’t like surprises. But somehow, in a contest, the surprise is the best part.

For these reasons, I always do giveaways at my book events. It’s delightful and inspiring for people to win something for no reason. I think it makes them feel that the world is a positive place after all, that unexpected things can be lovely, and that planning everything down to the last detail is highly over-rated. At least, that’s what a giveaway says to me.

Tuesday, after a few grueling weeks of struggling to write new material and market myself ad nauseam, I received an email with a yellow seal in it. Turns out, I’m a finalist in a prestigious Christian book award contest. I have no idea what my chances are for placing–it doesn’t even matter. I entered. I made the list.

This surprise gave me a boost of confidence and creativity concerning some manuscripts I’m working on. That yellow “finalist” seal made me believe in myself and God just a little bit more. (Is that terrible to admit?)

Yes, my trust and faith in God often fluctuates with how I’m feeling about myself, and how I’m feeling about myself fluctuates with what’s happening around me.

Someone should write a book about that.

Oh, wait. Somebody is already trying to do that. The little yellow seal is whispering that maybe I can do this after all. Maybe I can work and wonder and not worry about the outcome.

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