"Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result."*
I learned something again yesterday from a bunch of kids. By that, I mean not only that I learned again from kids, which will repeatedly happen if you wear a little humility, but also that I learned the something that I already knew again--this time from kids.
You see I went to Superpounce's school, where Superpounce and a group of her classmates were performing a mini-recital of their solo pieces during band class. Since I play piano (the permanent side-effect of growing up in a house where your mom is a piano teacher) I am Superpounce's accompanist. So, I was there not only to listen, but also to perform.
It was funny remembering back to days when I was in band, remembering the feelings of nervousness before the performance, wrestling with an instrument that did not always want to obey your commands, feet tapping madly to try and hold the elusive pulse of the music, and fingers stiff and unresponsive on foreign-feeling keys. The kids were so nervous that the row of them, all seated in chairs, looked as if they were about to be admitted to the principal's office for corporal punishment rather than simply playing a 2 or 3 minute piece for parents who adored every imperfect note coming from their instruments. You could not have found a sorrier looking lot if you had announced that summer vacation had been canceled.
But they all gave it a try, mostly because the grownups made them, and they all felt the "flight or fight" response--bullets whizzing by figuratively--and they all survived. And as a result, they all grew. They all learned. They all expanded. They all felt something and knew for a fact that they were really alive.
You must do this too. Not band necessarily, but pushing yourself out there where your fight or flight instinct kicks in, where you risk failure, where you hear the buzz of bullets whipping by your ears, and where you discover the exhileration of "being shot at without result." You must. This place is where the growth happens. This place is where you find out that you are so much more than you thought. This place is where you find out that limits weren't really limits at all--in hindsight they look like rationalizations or even excuses.
This place is where the living happens.
And what's more, there's no grownup to push you off the chair in the band hall and make you do it. YOU are the grownup now. If you don't push yourself off the chair, you're liable to rot there. No growth. No discovery. Self-imposed limits. No living. Not really.
Where is this place? What is "THIS?"
Only you can tell. For me, at least right now, its Ironman. There is something about plunging into an open water swim at dawn with 2000 people, something that would have ended my life not 4 years ago, that makes you pay attention and notice the life that's happening in front of you. One date every year where I risk utter failure doing something hard focuses all the rest of the year--not only the training that must occur to survive the day, but also every thing else in life that must co-exist with the training.
But it doesn't have to be Ironman--even if you've done one before and even if you want to do one again. There's not always time, and you can't betray who you are as a parent or spouse or professional. It doesn't even have to be athletic. It just has to involve bullets--that risk of failure.
You just have to look in the mirror and find something that lights your fire--and where you risk failure. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
Then you have to go. After all, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."*
But you must do this.
If you are to grow and to live, you must.
*Sir Winston Spencer Churchill