Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wisdom from a Coffee Cup

I shall now wax philosophical for a while, because a quote got me thinking, and we all know how dangerous that can be.

While waiting for a friend at Starbucks this morning, I was (as is my custom) jotting notes in ye olde omnipresent green notebook (hereinafter to be referred to as YOOGN). I took a few minutes to sort some character conundrum and looked away from my notes. That was when I noticed the quote printed on the side of my coffee cup. It gave me pause, so I wrote it in YOOGN so that I could blog about it:

"The world bursts at the seams with people ready to tell you you're not good enough. On occasion, some may be correct. But do not do their work for them. Seek any job; ask anyone out; pursue any goal. Don't take it personally when they say 'no' - they may not be smart enough to say 'yes'."
- Keith Olbermann

This made me think of my recent rant about Bestseller McBadass, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of anticipating failure. Many times we assume that we aren't good enough and by making that assumption, we make it come true.

We assume that a person is "out of our league" and don't pursue a relationship or even a friendship with them. We assume a job is too good to be true, that surely someone else will come along that's better qualified, so we don't apply. We're not good enough as students, writers, artists, musicians, people...and so we aren't good enough.

When we do this, we are foregoing success out of fear of failure. I guess what it boils down to is this: Are the rewards of reaching your goal worth the possible fallout of failing to reach that goal?

I can think of very few reasons to answer "no" to that question.

No one knows what the future holds for any of us, but we can make the choice to succeed - knowing that failure is a possibility - and live with the satisfaction that we have at least given it a fighting chance...or we can choose to fear the possibility of failure and negate any chance of success.

As a personal example, when I rode the Seattle-to-Portland bicycle ride (200 miles in 2 days) in 1999, I was told by several people, including some of my doctors, that it wasn't going to happen. I simply couldn't do it. One doctor glibly told me that he had "never known a fibromyalgia patient who could even think of doing such a thing". I retorted that we had evidently not been introduced.

In spite of my stubborn "I'll show you" nature, though, I was starting to have my doubts at this point. Should I even bother to try if I'm just going to fail (not to mention that I'd be sore as hell after the inevitable failure)? Why not spare myself the pain of both the ride and the failure? Was it worth it?

But come on, you folks know me: Tell me I can't do something. Watch what happens.

Well, 50 miles into the ride, I twisted my knee after some impatient twat knocked me into a ditch. I was absolutely hellbent on continuing, though. I wasn't dropping out. No way. By the time I crossed the finish line, after over 24 hours in the saddle over the course of 2 days, I couldn't walk. I was on crutches for 3 days and even now, I still have some problems with that knee...but I finished the ride.

Was it the wisest decision to continue the ride, knowing my knee was unhappy? Probably not. There are days when my knee lets me know that it still hasn't forgiven me. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. In almost 10 years, I have never once regretted it. As long as I could still make the wheels turn on my bike, there was still a chance to make it to the finish, and I wasn't going to stop until either I couldn't ride anymore or I had my finisher's badge, whichever came first.

Had I dropped out of the ride, I would most likely still be kicking myself. However, what if I had taken everyone else at their word that I couldn't do it at all, and just not started? I can only imagine the regret. The "what if I'd at least given it a shot?" Quite honestly, I'll take a sore knee any day of the week over the self-loathing and regret.

So why am I telling you this? Because I very strongly believe that, as the quote above points out, a lot of us let others tell us we'll never amount to anything, we'll never succeed, we'll never drag our limping, bleeding carcasses across the finish line...and I hate to see people complacently take someone else at their word that it's not even worth starting the race, because you'll never finish, let alone win. I would rather be the guy that crosses the finish last, or even the one that has to drop out of the race midway through, than the one who's at home on the sofa saying "it's not worth trying, because I'll never win".

I know the cliches:"think positive", "at least you tried", etc., but there is a lot of wisdom in those simple mantras. Too many people sit back and accept the inevitability of failure. The race metaphor can apply to anything in life. For the writers among us, it's easy to tell ourselves "What's the point? It'll never get published and it'll never be a bestseller." Really? How do you know? It's intimidating as hell: Every time we put pen to paper and start a new story, we could easily be starting something that will never see the light of day and will get no more of a publisher's time than the time it takes to send off an impersonal rejection...assuming the story even gets finished and polished enough to submit in the first place. You never know what will happen if you start it, but you know exactly what will happen if you don't.

Not everyone crosses the finish line, but the ones who truly fail are the ones who never cross the starting line.

So, my loyal blog minions, I say:

Get off the couch.

Put on your running shoes.

And run the damned race.


  1. "We assume that a person is "out of our league" and don't pursue a relationship or even a friendship with them."
    I'll keep this in mind next weekend when I'm in Las Vegas. ;) Just kidding.

    Great post, man. Seriously. Good advice.

  2. This post...was awesome. Thank you SO MUCH for this. It was very inspiring. And it's so true: We really DO need to try. We need to plod on, even when others say to quit. Writers really do need to have a "never say die" attitude.

    And congrats on crossing that finish line! :)

  3. This is one of those post that make me feel like I should follow you around with a sign reading "Um yeah what she said"

    Whenever I start to doubt an endeavor I try to ask what's the worst hat could happen for trying? If the answer is not death or dismemberment then it is time to give it a go.

    I mean really a little rejection is good for teh complextion anyways.