One Year Later

One Year Later

Oy.  It’s been a year.

There’s been struggles abound, adventures galore, and a lot of personal growth.  And that’s not even including the judge program.

They tell you as you grow up, that the more you age the easier things will be.  I’ve decided that’s a pile of malarkey.  Things don’t get easier, you just gain the ability to adapt more and once you’ve grown comfortable, that is when you run into a new challenge to conquer.  And let’s be honest, life would be pretty boring if everything was easily wrapped up and cataloged with pre-programmed responses.

I started this blog as a way to organize my thoughts and work through the events as I traveled down the Judge road.  I haven’t kept up with it as regularly as I’d like; being a teacher often means sacrificing not only your free time but also your free energy.  Most days when I get home it’s all I can do to wash clothes and keep far enough ahead on my grading that I’m not crushed by a mountain of papers.  Writing is a part of my soul and when I don’t have the energy to focus on it, I tend to push it aside until I can get to it.  I hope that a future change in careers will mean I have the time to write about more events, not just the ones that have really hit me hard (whether good or bad).

In three or four days, I’ll hit the one year anniversary of my very first GP.  You can read more about the event here but it’s safe to say that event changed me, and for the better.  While I had judged a largeish Magic event the previous weekend, it was here that a fire really lit inside me; I really loved this judging thing.  As an introvert, it felt like a way for me to connect with people and really make someone’s day better and that’s what I think motivates me to this day.  Judging is this odd mix of customer service, intricate knowledge, and people skills that means I always have to be prepared to think on my feet.  I think that’s why GP Charlotte was the turning point for me; if any GP could be considered the ‘Be Flexible and Make it Happen GP’ it was that one.

I’ve had a lot of amazing success this past year: I planned and successfully ran a charity tournament for a local animal shelter; I judged in my first SCG Open; and I’ve tackled the plethora of formats that Magic has to offer.  I even wrote something that ended up on the ‘Mothership’ (Wizard’s homepage) about the struggles I’ve had as lady Magic player.  That was an especially proud moment of mine and an illustration of how powerful written words can be.  Not only have I had several female players express similar struggles to mine, I even had a fellow judge call attention to the fact that he had a female judge candidate who was inspired to become a judge because of what I had written.  That, more than anything, is my proudest judge related moment to date. (I hope to meet her one day!)

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and daises.  I’ve punted rules calls pretty publicly; I had a tardiness situation where I wasn’t firm enough and it led to player backlash; I’ve dealt with upset players as both a floor judge and a head judge.

I also failed the Level 2 test twice.

I’ll admit, the second time I wasn’t prepared.  My new teaching job was robbing me of all my time and I made the mistake of taking it at a GP instead of in a quieter setting.

But the first time… the first time hit me hard.  I’m not used to failing at things; in fact, I have the tendency to avoid situations that put me in a spot where I may fail.  That’s one of the places I think I’ve grown the most since I’ve started judging; facing my knowledge and ability gaps in a way that I can understand them and improve.  Without failure there is no getting better, no moving on to the next level.

Now when I make mistakes, I don’t let them drag down into a spiral of despair.  I instead let them ground me and I examine them for ways I can improve.  I have the ability in me to be a very good judge, and in some areas I am already a very good judge, but in order to reach my potential, I have to know not only what mistake I made, but also how I got to the error in the first place.

But I know I’m growing.  Earlier this month, I judged side events at GP Richmond.  As the weekend progressed, I felt great but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that it felt too easy.  Towards the end of my second shift, I realized that it wasn’t that things were too easy but that I now had the skills to be more efficient which made me better at my job.  I also got to help coach a fellow female judge who was launching their first side event as a head judge at a GP.  I even got called a ‘SCG Stalwart’ which may have caused my heart to grow three sizes that day.

Looking to the future, I’m heading to Cleveland in the middle of June to judge another GP under Riki Hiyashi.  I was on the main event floor for his first GP in Indianapolis so I feel extremely grateful and fortunate that I get to judge under him for his last GP as well.  Fingers crossed that this will also be my first event as a Level 2 judge.

I’m hoping to check ‘Judge an Event Out of the U.S.’ off my judge bucketlist but only time will tell if that becomes a reality.

But more than events, more than simple rules knowledge, judging has helped me grow as a person.  Confidence has always been a weak point but continuing to receive concrete evidence that I can do things correctly, and even well, has pulled up my self confidence, not only as a judge, but as a person.  I still continue to struggle with depression and anxiety but overall I am a happier person.  Having to evaluate not only myself, but also other judges, I’ve learned to explain myself more concisely in order to help a fellow judge grow.  It’s like using my teaching skills but turned up to eleven.

Writing this blog has been an exercise in courage.  I still get nervous teaching in front of my students sometimes so tossing out my words for (potentially) all the internet to see can be unbelievably nerve wracking.  But if my words and experiences can help just one person besides myself, it will all be worth it.

I’m nowhere near out of steam.  I aim to keep my passion and drive for judging for a very long time.

Here’s to another amazing year of events, players, and new and old judge friends along the way and I hope you’ll join me for them all.

Will You be my Manatee?

When I first envisioned writing about mentoring, I had a particular image in my head; the wise, older individual overseeing the younger person as the future successor.  Now, while that isn’t completely wrong, it’s also very far off from what really happens when we look at mentoring in the judge community.  Whether it’s polishing rules knowledge, increasing soft skills tied to player relations, or the logistics of running events of all sizes, no judge comes to the program with all the skills they need honed and ready to go.

The level of mentorship that flies around the judge program is what makes it so unique.  It’s not something that’s defined by levels, age, or experience.  I’m lucky to have met and worked with so many judges of different levels in my journey through the program most of whom happily embrace mentorship.  The great thing about mentoring is that sometimes it’s a very pointed, on purpose kind of action.  A judge comes to you for help or growth and so you provide guidance to best of your ability.  You talk through their issues; give them advice as you can; help them push for and reach their goals.  It doesn’t even have to be something big; maybe they don’t quite understand the intricacies of WER so you spend the afternoon tweaking their skills.  It may have just been an afternoon to you but now each time that judge works with that program you can bet they’ll remember you and the help you provided.

The other kind of mentoring can happen quite on accident.  You’re chatting with a judge and the next thing you know you’ve shared ideas back and forth about tournament logistics or how to make your local game stores more inclusive.  To some this may seem to be a simple sharing of ideas but it’s also a little piece of mentoring that’s been shared between colleagues.

Manatee me
Everyone can be a manatee!

But let’s say you’re more in category one than two.  Someone has come to you for advice, seeking guidance on the tumultuous journey that can be working your way into the program.  Very few people can make it through this process without help; the sheer amount of information you need to acquire as you move forward can seem insurmountable; beginning this journey often looks impossible.  I had a great first mentor in the program, and the mentors that have followed have all approached mentoring with similar techniques.  I’m going to share a few things that I believe they did right.  This structure gave me the confidence and drive to keep going even after stumbling here or there.

Make it okay to make mistakes. As a society, we look at mistakes as things to be avoided at all costs but in actuality mistakes are how we learn.  I can all but promise you that you will and do remember your stumbles much more than you remember your easy journeys.  Creating an environment where they can be confident enough to jump and know that someone is there to catch them if they fall is a powerful thing.  It also means they’ll be comfortable coming to you when they have a problem.

Explain things in plain terms.  Nothing will make your ‘manatee’ more frustrated than you wrapping your explanations in jargon.  Yes, they do need to learn the terms and vernacular of judging but it is best to ease them into things.  Lower stress and frustration means that they will absorb things better.  It also means a happier them and by proxy, a happier you.

Don’t be afraid to start with the basics.  People will come to from all different backgrounds and with varying levels of rules and policy knowledge so you’re going to want to set a baseline.  It will give you a place to start and them a place to build from.  Understanding your limits is empowering because once you know where they lay you can push past them.  Even if they insist they don’t need it, make a baseline anyway.  They’ll be thankful once it’s done.

Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.  Nothing is worse than reaching out and finding silence.   Mentoring can be exhausting or overwhelming but fully retreating isn’t an option.  If it’s becoming too much let your ‘manatee’ know.  Self-care is important, in every aspect of judging.  Conversely, if your ‘manatee’ is too quiet don’t be afraid to touch base to make sure they’re still on board with the process.  Life gets busy; it could be that they need a small pause.  However, sometimes people also realize that this isn’t what they thought it would be.  It’s okay if you have some people drift away.

Be present.  The most important thing you can be is there.  Let them know you care; that you want to see them be successful as much as they want to be successful.  That doesn’t mean you have to give yourself entirely to mentoring but caring goes a very long way.  Sometimes all someone needs is the knowledge that someone else believes they can do it in order to push themselves.  Simple support and belief can make all the difference between success and belief.

Mentoring is a tough but rewarding experience.  Sharing failures can be hard but when you share successes it makes up for the stumbles along the way.  Don’t let your preconceived notions get in your way either; anyone can be a mentor and anyone can be a ‘manatee.’

Let’s help build each other up to make the program stronger.

(Photo credit to Paul Johnson, L2 Judge out of New Zealand)