I want to quit… No, I need to quit. I hate debate. Why do I do this to myself? What am I getting out of this? Maybe I can join a sport? Ok, maybe not a sport… Should I take a break? No… I need to just quit.
Reflections like these seem to sit in darkness until it is time for them to blind me from reality, common thoughts that always linger and never seem to disappear. As I write this, I even still contemplate why I joined the debate team. It’s not because waking up four in the morning is enjoyable, or because cold school pizzas are delicious. It also certainly isn’t the horrible school Wi-Fi, judges who vote off of cross, or even the late-night stressing over a tournament that will never matter in the years to come.
I think it is safe to say that every debater, male or female, thinks about quitting or imagines their life without debate at one point or another. Therefore, this goes out to all the debaters who have felt, still feel, or might later feel the need to quit debating.
To start off, the most valuable thing I have learned from debating is that everything is weighed on a cost-benefit analysis (not really, but you get the point). If the harms outweigh the benefits, it seems pretty logical to quit. But, if even one benefit outweighs any potential harm, continuing seems like the best choice.
So, let’s weigh.
First, there are the obvious benefits your coaches and sponsors present to you, incentivizing you to join your team in the first place. For me, it was public speaking. Before debate, it was embarrassingly awkward for me to talk in front of a crowd. The feeling of freezing up, internally crying, and externally failing was a constant struggle, and debate was my method of changing my reality. Even more so, there is the apparent college resume boost. Like most clubs, many people initially join debate just to fill up their college resumes with countless ‘semi-finalist’ or ‘ 1st place speaker’ awards.
Second, there are the unexplainable benefits. Because of debate, I am lucky to have an amazing partner who I can talk to and a supportive team filled with my closest friends. As a result, I honestly cannot imagine my years in high school without this activity; if I could choose one thing to remember and treasure from these last few years, it would be the long car drives, jamming out to Disney playlists, doing makeup in hotel rooms, and trying new foods with the best role models I have ever met.
Third, of course, the exercise. For all those who think debate is not a sport, running from a cafeteria to a classroom in heels is just as hard as cross country, with bid rounds comparable to Olympic qualifiers. Exhausting, but worth it. But, as much as dropping bid rounds can be discouraging, even that cannot deteriorate my determination for continuing to debate. If debate allows you to surround yourself with decent, kind people who will support you and listen to what you believe, then debate can become your home, your family, your team, and your passion.
Though I have no qualifications nor credibility to give advice, I think I have felt the same way you inevitably have at one point or another. The one thing I wish I knew when I started debate was the number of times I was going to feel like the activity was not right for me. I felt, and sometimes still feel, like I should not be debating because I am not smart enough or even good enough. When I was a sophomore, I was the youngest traveling member amongst three other great teams from my school. I idolized, worshipped, and followed every small action they did. Though I feel like it may seem hypocritical of me to give advice I still struggle to follow, I think that worrying and comparing yourself is the most toxic thing to do in the debate community. Once you realize you will never be a copy of the person you worship, you can finally work on being a better you. As cliché as that sounds, many people beat themselves up about not being as good as their idol. There should never be an idol. An example, maybe, but no debater will ever achieve happiness or greatness by being a repetition of another. Next, for the people who think that debate is too much, you are very right. Debating is time consuming, difficult, and frustrating. Give it some time though. Time might mean going to another tournament, or it might be analyzing the issue. I had 7 partners my novice year and was lucky to find a semi-permanent partner for the next two (sadly she is graduating this year). Though I cannot effectively generalize, in my experience, this feeling seems universal amongst many people. Fortunately, something I have learned is that change does not come by chance, it comes by choice. You need to put the effort in to make things better. The power you have to better yourself, no matter how long you have been debating for, is powerful, meaningful, and influential. Whether it is balancing your time, not having a partner, having partner issues, not thinking you are good enough, or whatever it may be, it can be altered and addressed.
Sometimes, the stress can just be extreme, and that is ok. And sometimes, you may want to just yell “I quit” and run out of the room, and that is also ok. It is the actions you take after these thoughts that matter. Are you going to find the issue and see change through choice, or are you going to gamble on the chance and only build up your problems? Don’t allow the short-term obstacles to short-circuit the positives of your future in debate.
I know, sometimes it is hard to see the benefits until they materialize, but stay positive. For me, it is the everlasting laughter, friendships, and experience I will never get anywhere else that outweighs all the “I want to quit” moments. Once you find your debate gem, appreciate the time you have with it, because facing your future without the meaningful memories of your past would be unbearable.
Lots of love,