For most of my life, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with process. It took me a long time to realize that process doesn’t equal failure. I used to think that if something didn’t come easily to me, as many things did when I was younger, then I must not be good at it. I didn’t understand the difference between having a natural aptitude for something and having the ability to acquire and cultivate a skill. As a result, for many years, I saw failure as a finite thing, and I also began to equate missed opportunities with failure, because I thought opportunity, also, was a finite thing. “The chance only comes around once in a lifetime.” “That ship has sailed,” etc. etc.
I would look back on my life and see certain moments where an open door had been slammed shut, and I would wonder, what if it hadn’t? Would my life have been better if…?
For instance, when I was in 4th grade, my family lived in Southern California. My dad was ill, and my parents were planning on returning to our former home in the mid-west to save money. It just so happened that I scored well on my school intelligence and achievement tests. I scored extremely well — so well, in fact, that my teacher called a private meeting with my mother. At the time, California had a few advanced education programs reserved for kids who were “gifted.” The particular program I had been chosen for involved an all expenses paid private school, accelerated classes, and the probability of entering college at an early age. They normally didn’t accept students until they were entering 6th grade, but they wanted to make an exception for me. I would be allowed to enter their program as a 5th grader in the coming year.
As my teacher described the learning atmosphere, I was completely unaware of the magnitude of the offer. I was too busy falling in love with the idea of guided learning – following a mystery of the mind down the rabbit hole until I had consumed it. The idea, to me, was magical. I wanted to go there more than anything.
My teacher’s expression of incredulity was lost on me as my mother started explaining why I couldn’t go. We had to move back to Missouri. Back to a small town without a library or a pharmacy, let alone an accelerated scholastic program of any kind. My teacher didn’t seem to understand a family not being deeply honored and moving heaven and earth to accept the offer, and explained again. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Couldn’t any other arrangements be made?
No, there couldn’t.
I never blamed my mother. I understood that sacrifices have to be made for family. But, I took on a bit of melancholy over the whole ordeal as I had a hard time fitting in at school. I started “dumbing myself down” and partitioning off a bit of myself that I felt I couldn’t satisfy, and found myself feeling somewhat intimidated at the idea of unleashing.
In 6th grade, I found myself missing one word on my spelling test every few weeks because I thought if I consistently got perfect scores, I might not have as many friends. I remember looking at my practice list and reasoning out what word seemed tricky so that my teacher would think it more likely that I could get it wrong. I didn’t study because I could get good grades without studying. If I DID study, I ran the risk of standing out and possibly alienating myself. Silly, no? Tell that to the 12 year old me with off-the-chart reading comprehension scores from a dysfunctional family who just wanted to have friends. Amazingly enough, I still graduated a Congressional Honor Student.
The thing is, for a long, long time, I thought that since I had MISSED the opportunity of a lifetime, I had to live down to my expectations. I didn’t understand that, just because that door had closed, nothing was keeping me from opening another door, punching out a window, or creating a brand new door of my own fashion and design.
I had put limitations on myself, and I hadn’t even realized it.
Of course, I’ve had many opportunities throughout my lifetime that I’ve pursued, ignored, or that I’ve run from. I have tasted success and failure.
As a professional writer, I’ve had to grow a thicker skin. I’ve had to learn to respect the power of the rewrite. Sometimes my best work has been born out of what seemed like a failed first or second attempt. I’ve learned that I must be true to myself. Sometimes all I need to create an opportunity is to be me – to let the world see me.
Just today, I tasted a bitter disappointment. But, in the hours before and after, new opportunities opened up to me, and I let myself see them because, for the first time in years, I didn’t get bogged down in blaming myself or bemoaning my fate. I didn’t sit in the hallway, refusing to keep walking toward new doors and windows (at least, not for more than an hour or so ;).
Sometimes a ship that’s sailed is just a ship that’s sailed. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and look for a new ship. Or change course and go over the mountain. Or, if you just really, really want to be on the water, build your own ship.
Fly, climb, sail, or take a nap if you want to. Just know that you have a lot more control over your life than you might realize. And no matter how many doors close or ships sail, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.
Be brave, friends, and embrace who you are and who you want to be. Fly high and sail hard. Just don’t give up.