Today is one of those days.
It should be glorious. Today is a day I look forward to for months, the first day of my favorite writing conference, and this year I’m faculty. I get to present. One more item off the bucket list. I should be ecstatic.
Instead, I find myself overwhelmed and sad, fighting off fifty things and deciding what I’m going to do next based on how many people I’m going to disappoint. Because I’m going to disappoint people. I’ve made commitments I can’t keep. Maybe someone better could keep them, but I’m just me, and I’m not going to be able to.
So I hate myself, because I told people I would do things I won’t now do. I’m a juggler, and I know, right now before the objects crash to earth, that there are too many things in the air for me to catch them all. It’s a matter now of choosing which ones I will drop. I’m trying to choose the ones that will bounce when they hit, rather than shatter. But I will fail. I don’t know which are which. Inevitably, I will choose wrong.
Sometimes I think I’d like to live a life where this doesn’t happen. Wouldn’t it be great to be supremely capable, where I can always finish the projects I’m involved in to everyone’s satisfaction? But I’m not that guy. I don’t know it at the time, but when I reach for some projects, I often seem to be committing to things I can’t…quite…do.
A few years back (more than a few, now) I was really into weightlifting. I had a training regimen, thirty or so exercises I was doing on a rotational schedule, pushing myself to get bigger and stronger. I was pretty religious about it, too, working myself very hard for quite a while. But I wasn’t seeing results, not in the mirror, not on the scale, not in the weight room.
Friend of mine was a strength coach at a local school, so I talked to him about it. I showed him my regimen, the exercises I was doing, and asked what I was doing wrong. “Do you finish all these?” he said. “Yeah,” I said, “Of course I do. I’m not a quitter.”
“It’s not about that,” he said. “If you’re working out to your maximum, you’ll get to a point where you simply can’t do the set. You’ll put a weight on the bar you just can’t lift. That’s not quitting; that’s maxing out. That’s showing you where you really are. And that’s the point where you make gains. No offense, but you’re playing this way too safe. It might feel good to get all your sets done, but sometimes you have to try to lift beyond what you can do, or you’re never going to find out how strong you can be.”
I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. There’s a quote on the wall of my writing space that says, “You should be trying to do the impossible at least once every day.” It is not in the harbor, but out on the seas where we find out what our ship is made of. That means that we are going to fail. The weather will beat us up, and waves will swamp us. But who wants to build a ship that never leaves the harbor? Is it not worth the risk of disaster to sail out into the wild spray and flying gale?
Today is sinking day. My boat is going down. I’m not going to be able to lift this weight. I’m going to have to ask the spotter to put it back on the bar for me. The balls and pins and bottles will come crashing down. Today all I can do is just keep repeating “I will not quit. I will not give up. I will never stop trying.”
But tomorrow, I’ll dust myself off and try it again. A little stronger. A little wiser. A little bit more. We can’t become all we could be unless we sometimes crash and burn because we attempted a bit too much. This is the pain day. But there will be a day of exhilarating joy, down the road, that couldn’t have been reached without this day.
I’ll see you on the other side.