SCG: Baltimore (AKA The Imposter Open)

This past weekend I put on a blue SCG judge shirt for the first time.  It would be my first time on the floor of a large competitive event and I was both excited and nervous.  In order to improve myself and gain more experience as I continue my road toward my level 2 certification, it as a step that I needed to take.  It’s also important to have your name and face known to the big Tournament Organizers, like Star City, because they tend to run the larger tournaments.  That was in my mind a great deal leading up to the tournament and one of the goals I set for myself was that I was going to perform better than at GP Charlotte:  I was gonna be perfect.

In the end, perfection is almost what ruined me.

As a person, I want to be in control of everything.  For me, part of that control comes from performing the jobs I am given at the most optimal level possible.  That in and of itself is necessarily a bad thing but the level at which I wish to reach is.  A lot of the things I have done in my life have come easy so reaching that optimal level only required a bit of effort.

Judging is very different.  Not only are there so many rules and interactions but the only way you can become a better judge is going out and judging events.  You may have the rules down to a science but have to work on your interpersonal skills with players.  You might be able to build a rapport with players but the mysteries of WER might elude you for a time.  I takes a very long time and a large amount of effort before you hot the point where you could be considered a well-rounded judge.  (Spoiler alert: we call that level 3.)

In order for me to get better judging, mistakes have to happen.  To quote the infamous James Kerr: “You have to mess up to get better.”

First mistake of Saturday:  deciding to volunteer for a sales booth shift.  The actual working wasn’t bad, as stressful as retail can be when things get busy, but it meant I missed judge meeting before the tournament starts.  I got to my place a mere 15 minutes before the main event started and effectively played ten minutes of catch up as I met my team lead and the rest of my team, all but one whom I hadn’t met before.  It made me feel separate from a lot of things and looking back I think it was the first step in the wrong direction for the weekend.

I was on the paper team on Saturday, which meant that we coordinated cutting and passing out slips.  The goal was to get them out as quick and efficiently as we could, a goal that was communicated to me by my team lead Martha (Skipper) Lufkin.  She also communicated all the information I missed while working the booth and trying to absorb it all so quickly was a bit overwhelming.  Again, I had no one to blame but myself.  I have a pretty embedded habit of trying to bite off more than I can chew.

Looking back on it, the majority of my day went fine.  I had several Spell Queller calls as players hashed out a new Standard format and some angling by players to see just how many turns Emrakul really steals but around the fourth round I began to feel a little disheartened.  I very much felt like I wasn’t doing enough.

I wasn’t taking enough calls; I wasn’t solving enough problems.

In my head, I wasn’t being a judge rock star which meant that I wasn’t being a good enough judge.

I was scared I wasn’t doing enough.  Scared isn’t even a strong enough word because I was downright terrified.  Terrified that someone was gonna find me out; call me out as a hack who wasn’t fooling anyone; be asked to leave because I wasn’t a good enough judge.

It was the fear more than the drive to do well that pushed me that day.  I started to feel separated from my fellow judges even as they made an effort to get to know me, attempt to make me feel more welcome on the floor it didn’t really get through to me.  I don’t know if this was their normal status quo at events (most likely this option) or if they picked up on my unease or feeling of not belonging.  I placed a barrier between myself and them and felt very much alone.

Each little misstep that happened made me feel worse, even ones that were honestly outside my control.  We had both players in a match not understand the difference between a game and match which led to a 15+ minute time extension as one re-sleeved his entire deck.  I had no way of knowing this; when playing in a high level competitive event, you just assume that your players know the difference between a  game and a match.

But when an L3 found me to ask me what was going on with the extension I still felt like it was my fault.  I had no control of the situation but I still took all the blame for it.  The judge questioning me didn’t blame me for it, he was just looking for information but I still felt at fault.

It got to the point that during round seven I excused myself to the bathroom and had a good cry in one of the stalls.  I was sure that I was messing everything up royally; even crying in the bathroom felt like a failure because I was wasting time when I could’ve been on the floor judging.

I eventually cleaned myself up and ventured out onto the floor again.  At this point I was ashamed that the feeling had driven me to tears, and that paired with a friend telling me to stop it (a response to a Facebook post), I squared up my shoulders and was ready to approach the rest of the day with  better attitude.  It worked.  My team lead even mentioned the next day that I woke up in the later rounds and really began to be a presence.

The end of the day came and I was released and while I felt better about my performance in the last few rounds, the overall feeling from the day was a negative one.  Luckily, instead of dwelling on it like I would have in the past, I’ve met a lot of great people in the judge program and I started shooting messages to a few to see if they had any insight into what happened.  Spencer and Zak had the answer:  Imposter Syndrome. I fit the symptoms to a tee; I saw my day unrolling as I read the blog post.  You should read it, and everything else on the blog while you’re at it.

The next day, with the knowledge of what happened fresh in my mind, I headed into my day with an entirely different mindset.  I was ready to learn and embrace the missteps I took.  And boy, were there a bunch.  It was my first time launching, and seating side events and my whole day was shuffling players around, asking players to move and generally even trying to watch some Magic.  Granted, it could have been because there was less pressure because I was no longer on the main event but I like to think that I faced the day with an entirely new mindset.

My team lead on Sunday, Sarah Ellis, and the rest of the judges on my team were rock stars that day.  When we had to spend a few hours a judge down, together we supported one another until that judge returned and some of the pressure lessened.  I enjoyed the entirety of my day so much more than Saturday because I was able to engage my fellow judges in rules and policy talk.  We swapped stories and tips and I engaged players in conversation and banter which helped my day fly by.

The big take away from that weekend is this:  believe in yourself.  Especially with an institution like he judge program that is built in such a way that there are layers of support, push forward with confidence and don’t let your fears of failure get in your way.  If you stumble, if you fail a call, if you fail a player, there are contingencies in place to repair the mistakes that are made.  By owning up to your mistakes, you will grow as a person and as a judge.

Let your weaknesses make you stronger.