“In soloing – as in other activities – it is far easier to start something than it is to finish it.”
– Amelia Earhart
I remember when I was young, I had no concept of what I was capable of – and I assumed I was capable of anything. What a beautiful delusion to have had (and well, to a small degree, still have ;) ).
I had grand schemes, grand ambitions. Among them, a short list included:
- NBA Athlete
- World Traveler
- Rock guitar god
Ambition was great, but unfortunately, I also had inconsistent follow through. Inconsistent follow through paired with infinite belief in your own abilities is a recipe for failure (followed by more failure, and more failure, but surprisingly no self doubt).
I’ll give you an example.
The Suffering That Is Practice
I remember the first time my father relented and finally took me to take guitar lessons. I was in a little studio/office, and initially excited at the prospect of being the next Jimi Hendrix. I remember the feel of the guitar strings stinging my uncalloused fingers, my uncoordinated and weak hands flubbing every note. My instructor showed me how to play some scales (or something, I had lost interest by this point) and had me start practicing.
I think the next memory I have of me is me quitting the guitar because how much I disliked practicing scales.
At a young age, I learned that practicing so you could be great was much less fun than performing once you are great. That’s a whole other tangent, and a lesson for another time.
I Failed – But At Least I Started
I would go on to start and quit guitar perhaps a dozen times in my life, until college when I finally picked it up, learned a few songs and really got hooked on it (even the mundane practicing of it all). The fact that it stuck with me in college surprised even myself. What finally happened? I had the good luck of meeting a friend to jam with. The missing piece of the puzzle was that I hadn’t learned how much fun playing guitar could be with other people – I had been trying to learn it on my own.
Once I accidentally discovered that, it was easy.
The second thing I discovered was open mic nights – a community of people who wanted to hear me play and supported each other. Once again, something that I didn’t even know existed came into my life to help me achieve my goal. Going to open mic nights exposed me to more musicians, opened the door to collaboration, and expanded the type of music I listened to.
And then there was Craig’s List, through which I’ve met dozens of musicians and bands that I’ve played with.
Wait, the little kid who quit the first time his fingers got sliced open by guitar strings was now playing on stage with a rock band?
You know it.
Cautiously Picking Your Battles Limits Options
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the goals I have in my own life, and how I cautiously pick my battles now. I look at my goals and pick something that’s realistic, something that’s manageable. No doubt this helps keep me focused and grounded, but guess what?
Many of the things I’ve accomplished in my life weren’t realistic the first time I undertook them. My life is filled with failure upon failure – false starts, projects left unfinished to be picked up another day, random loose threads that get tied up years later.
Many times, I would continue to try different things, until something totally unexpected happened – I would meet a friend, or a mentor, or the external context of what I was doing would change, and magically pieces would fall into place. Sometimes finding a friend or mentor opens the door to completely unexpected, tangent opportunities that I enjoy even more than the goal I originally set out to accomplish.
In retrospect, sometimes it seems like it was just dumb luck. As one of the announcers said about Clint Dempsey’s lucky break (a shot that the England goal keeper should have stopped easily) that tied the US and England 1-1 in the World Cup 2010 – “You can’t win the lotto if you don’t buy a ticket!”
On the other hand, how lucky can you be if you fail over and over before things finally go your way?
Dreams Can Be Unrealistic
“If someone says: That’s impossible, You should understand it as: According to my very limited experience and narrow understanding of reality, that’s very unlikely. ”
– Paul Buchheit
I have a suspicion that when I was younger, if I had thought through many of the things I started, I would have “known” I couldn’t finish them – that they were goals that were unrealistic, and totally out of reach.
As I grew older and became less naive, I have started to weigh things more carefully. This may lead to safer (some would argue, generally better) decision – but I think it also leads me to discount what I “know” is not possible. I wonder sometimes how many of these “impossible” opportunities I’ve passed up, perhaps even unconsciously.
Yes, You May Fail
Let me deal with one thing you may be thinking right now, and it’s this: yes it’s true – if you knowingly start things you can’t finish you may fail. I failed many times. I don’t know why it didn’t discourage me, but perhaps it takes a little faith and optimism (and delusional belief in yourself ;) ).
While things don’t always end up going my way, sometimes the pieces do seem to just fall into place at just the right time.
So, if there is something you truly are passionate about, something that you really want to try – I think just because it may seem difficult and out of reach, that shouldn’t stop you from starting. Just because it’s not possible right now, doesn’t mean it’ll never be.
And even if it is, failure and quitting is an option. It’s ok to start things you can’t finish.
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