“Who are you to not be great?” – Derek Dixon
I didn’t know how to answer that inquiry. How does anyone answer it without stuttering along? Derek asked me this question – which has haunted me ever since – when I was wrestling with the cost of taking a chance on pursuing writing. Somewhere along the way I had convinced myself it was a fool’s errand; nothing could really come of putting myself out there. Sure, I might get one or two things right, but in the grand scheme of things it would be pointless. The chances of anyone remembering my name were slim. I told myself all of these things, then got so comfortable with the thoughts that I started speaking them aloud. Thankfully, Derek decided to leave me gobsmacked instead of letting me chug along.
I think we self-sabotage for a multitude of reasons, but the worst for me is the fear of giving it all I’ve got only to fail. Hours wasted. Shirts ruined from nervous sweating. The potential for becoming a laughing stock. For all those horrible outcomes, I couldn’t see the potential for some good. But, as I grow and open my life up to the world at large, I’ve come to see that those things are beyond my control and that they happen even to the best of us. Some things will never be good enough for the world at large, but that doesn’t have to be a determining feature of what is great for you. More importantly, I’m learning that if we are acting only for the approval of others then we are doomed to disappointment.
I remember a moment of greatness that I never recaptured. I was running track in high school with my Dad as one of my coaches(being able to survive that as a teenager is already a sign of greatness) for the long jump and triple jump. I’m not tall like most jumpers, but my Dad believed with my quickness and strength I could be pretty good. I had a mental block , though, and couldn’t seem to let go enough to trust my body. Back then, jumping 30 feet and up was excellent and my Dad wanted me to hit that mark. So, we went out to the pit and worked for hours. I remember each jump getting harder and harder as I got more and more frustrated. Finally, my Dad just said this:
“This is your last jump. Now, get it.”
He looked at me the way he always looks at me in those moments – not quite angry but determined not to let me get in my own way – then walked to the edge of the pit. The sun was setting in orange tones behind the bleachers and I was covered in sweat in sand. I took a breath, leaned back, then exploded forward. My fear of hitting the sand, getting hurt, letting Dad and myself down, the implications of doing this and never doing it again, it all fell away.
And I did it. My Dad punched the air and hollered “Yes!” when I hit the mark. I sat back on my heals in the sand, smiling in relief and pride. I never hit that milestone again, much to my own dismay back then, but now that moment is keeping me focused on what can happen in life when we forget all consequences.
I go back to that moment often to remind myself a few things:
- People will – and do – love me enough to push me towards success, and I am worthy of that.
- I did it once, I can do it again. I never hit 30 ft again, but I can hit other milestones in my life if I let go, breathe, and run like I’m free.
Greatness doesn’t mean never being last ever again, it doesn’t mean everything is perfect. For me, greatness can be a moment of light, a success you never saw coming, but went after regardless. Sometimes a failure in itself can be greatness, not because you failed so spectacularly, but because you chose to act despite the potential for a loss. Maybe you won’t do it today, or even tomorrow, but I hope you’ll get to a point where you chase your greatness down. Know that you’ve got a cheerleader waiting in the wings for that moment.