Greatness

IMG_1448It’s no big secret that I harbor a dream of writing a book. It’s also no big secret that I hate–I mean really hate–to fail.

I’m no dummy, but it took until today, more than four decades into my life to see that I’ve let the intertwining of those two concepts determine my current position on the matter: inactivity.

As I finished a book I had been reading, a thought popped into my head. I want to be a great writer.

That was no revelation, but the countering voice that followed it was: Sure you do, but on the first try.

Well, that’s enough to knock a girl on her butt.

To seal the deal, I recalled an interview I recently did with Sinbad, the comedian. He’s tried a lot of stuff: basketball, the military, comedy, acting, music. He’s not afraid to take a chance on something new because he knows he doesn’t have to get it right the first time. He told me, “People who are great didn’t start great.”

He remembers a piece of advice his dad gave him years ago. If you don’t mind being the worst person for a period of time, you can be the greatest.

Translation: nobody starts out great, and failure is the best teacher.

Those are humbling words for a perfectionist like me.

I finally started writing that book awhile ago, but it seems to have stalled out after a couple of chapters. Oh, I have tons of excuses: my kids won’t let me use the computer, no time, too tired, I’ll get to it when I have a good chunk of uninterrupted time, etc. I think the real reason, though, is this:

I want to be a great __________ (on the first try).

What’s hard for me to accept is that it’s the inevitable failure that will make it–or the next one–great. The criticism I receive from others. The parts that just don’t work. Phraseology that doesn’t connect with the audience. A dumb plot. Whatever.

Hearing that someone doesn’t like it and why will help me be a better writer–as long as I’m listening, of course.

And now another thought pops into my head. As my kids have lamented less-than-perfect scores on tests over the years, I always tell them the same thing. After verifying that they’ve tried their best, I remind them that they are in school to learn. If they got everything right on the first try, neither they nor their teachers would know what they still needed to learn. In that sense, failure becomes a roadmap to success.

Almost no one is great on the first try, nor often on the second nor the third nor the fourth. We all have a lot left to learn, and we have to pass through the crud to get there. Ultimately, it’s the crud that makes us great.

People who are great didn’t start great.

P.S. Here’s my Sinbad article, if you’re interested in reading it: Keeping It Real.

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