It is better to travel well than to arrive. -The Buddha
I think if I were an Olympic athlete, I would rather come in last than win the silver. You know, you win the gold, you feel good. You win the bronze, you think, well, at least I got something. But you win that silver, that’s like congratulations, you almost won. Of all the losers, you came in first of that group.
You’re the number one loser. -Jerry Seinfeld
It's so easy for we who inhabit American skin to be torn between those two philosophies, yes?
On the one hand, we Yanks are all about winning. From Mormon Bar, California (I love the internet) to Shin Pond, Maine, we share a barbarous thirst for victory.
And no, ties aren't acceptable either. Ties are either for parents trying to judge living room talent shows…or the French. We want a freaking winner and we'll go to extra innings or overtime or playoffs or Final Jeopardy to settle the joint. It's actually possible for a National Football League contest to end in a draw, but mostly because it's highly unlikely that enough players would remain unconcussed and of sound spleen after seventy-five minutes of gridiron butchery to determine a victor.
Sweet brother of Eli, that's why I loves me some football.
Anyway, that's not my point. For the past few days, I mean years, I mean decades, I've really struggled with the notion of goal setting. Have I achieved some lofty milestones? Hey, does the Pope have a girl's name?
I've won the neighborhood moss and dandelion growing competition five years running.
After exhaustive research, I discovered I'm the only member of my extended family to barf lime Jell-O.
In 1985, I ordered Domino's twenty-one times in one calendar month, a Lake City Way record which may outlast Joe DiMaggio's consecutive game hitting streak.
The thing is, those are all inadvertent accomplishments, not the culmination of specific goals. The Minnesota Vikings have appeared in four Super Bowls as their conference's champions, yet haven't won the big one. The Buffalo Bills reached four consecutive Super Bowls and fell short each time. In the non-sporting realm, Robert Redford has never won an acting Oscar and Colby totally should have won Survivor, Season Two. Would any of these folks be considered failures for approaching greatness yet stopping one rung shy of the pinnacle?
Yeah, they would, based on the way our culture judges champions.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Over the past six months, I've received no less than forty-four rejections from literary agents concerning my middle grade novel, and I'm starting to think maybe I'm approaching this whole book thing from the wrong perspective. I lecture myself quietly and constantly. It's about the joy of storytelling, the buzz that can only be obtained by putting pen to paper and scribbling so feverishly that I can't get it all down fast enough. When it's flowing, there are not agents or editors.
Don't get me wrong; I'd love to get this thing published. I think it's a solid book, one that could appeal to adults and kids alike.
But I suspect my ego has been occupying the driver's seat of this Hummer, slamming its fist down on the horn and screaming bloody oaths at every vehicle blocking its way to the publishing house. I could choose jealousy and resentment. I could continue to cultivate my festering scorn by barking at a moon bathed in the reflections of those who have "succeeded," and further fertilize my field with the manure of grumpy old men.
I could definitely stick with the Seinfeld silver medal approach.
Or I could just stop worrying and keep writing.