I have a friend who left college during Finals Week just twelve hours short of a finance degree. When asked why he left, especially since he was passing his courses, he replied he was just “ready to go home.”
That was more than twenty years ago. He’s never finished those twelve hours. He’s the same guy who, while day trading, got suspended for artificially manipulating values of a penny stock through repeated transactions. He also failed his real estate broker’s license six times before he passed. Although I never took the broker’s exam, the sales license in that state at the time was ridiculously easy. (It has changed since.) As a nineteen-year-old full-time college student with only fair grades, I went to four Saturday classes hungover and often failed to stay awake. Yet I easily passed the exam despite little study. The broker’s test is much more detailed, but my friend just didn’t care—at least that was the image he sold. He’s the only one who might possibly know the truth of that image.
We delay and even sabotage our dreams sometimes for a variety of reasons, many of which are irrational and in some cases even beyond our grasp. During fifteen years in higher education, I knew lots of ABDs (all but dissertation). They could speak eloquently and often passionately about their theses among friends and supporters but didn’t want to contemplate the act of defending a dissertation.
I faced a different kind of fear. I intermittently abandoned my passion for about eight years. For most of that period, I lived—aside from my workplace—as a stranger in a remote land. Significant trauma I fooled myself into believing I’d addressed grew into something else until I isolated myself. The cold-blooded murder of a close relative, struggles with multiple congenital conditions, two lengthy bouts with illness and sever chronic pain that eluded diagnosis, divorce, a job loss, infidelity and a best friend’s betrayal … During one six-month period of an eighteen-month constant headache punctuated by frequent migraines, eventually attributed to prescription medication, I prayed not to wake every night for six straight months.
People say they couldn’t have endured. I never would’ve imagined I could’ve endured. We seldom have any clue of what we can endure until the task is put before us and our beliefs (and/or desires, choices) leave us no option but to endure. I endured, but I failed to address.
When I finally got honest with myself about the impact of all the trauma in my life, I slowly made progress. I had to make some painful admissions about myself. I recognized personal attributes I couldn’t condone without precluding progress. I still have improvements to make and always will. That’s the nature of this existence.
Striving for anything of value makes all of us vulnerable because the pursuit will inevitably incur mistakes and rejection. Failure occurs only when we refuse to get back up. One of the wonderful aspects of writing is the lack of a final destination. The grandeur of one conquered peak becomes obscured by the vision of one even higher, calling out to see how far we’re willing to push the human spirit. We fall short only if we fall to completely exhaust it in determining its limits.
In doing so, we will be criticized for many reasons. When people voluntarily expend their energy and time—the most precious resource they have—to offer information that might be useful, we should consider ourselves fortunate. However, we must learn to move on without slowing to look back when people criticize because they are too afraid, too envious, or otherwise speaking from a position that allows them only to spew venom without the benefit of instruction. We fail only if we refuse to get back up and move forward.