“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss”
– an excerpt from the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling
The idea of risking everything on one big gamble sounds foolish,not manly. At least, that has always been my interpretation of those lines. I’m starting to think that there’s another way to see it.
I don’t like failure. I don’t know if it classifies as a fear, but I sure do avoid trying anything that I’m not reasonably certain to succeed in. It’s partially the legacy of never really being challenged by school as a child. I became used to doing pretty well without putting out much effort. I failed to learn how to try again after doing badly. My preference is to try anything new in a secret and isolated location with no witnesses, so that I can hide the fact that I am not perfect at everything.
I’ve been more and more able to handle being terrible at something and yet continue to do it: as an example, I will never be a squash pro (curse you, hand-eye coordination) but I keep playing every week. In fact, I’m starting to be aware of how my attitude changes my skill level. If I get worked up at making 1 mistake, others will soon follow. That happened on thursday, and I dug a pretty deep hole for myself in the match. But after going down 2 sets to 0 (3 sets are all you need to win a match), I stopped beating myself up and micromanaging my playing style. Instead, I focused on the number of points I needed to win, and I didn’t worry about what my opponent’s score. By mentally chanting the number, I maintained focus on the game and started to play really well. I kept thinking about the Colorado Avalanche who used the motto “Mission 16W” for their playoff run and Stanley Cup win in 2001. I almost pulled off the comeback win, but we were at the end of our booked time on the court, and the people waiting to play made me nervous and distracted. I hate it when my hang-ups collide.
I’ve found that it’s easier to try new recipes when I cook now, since I’ve re-catagorized those attempts as ‘learning experiments’. If they go badly, oh well. I’ll do it better the next time. I’m also going to work the experiment label into my fiction writing as well. I won’t know what genres I really can’t write in, until I try them out. And every good writer must have a pile of unloved and ugly short stories haunting their office or basement.
So, maybe instead of those poetic lines being literally about risking your money at a game of chance, it’s really about accepting the risk that comes with life. You cannot achieve anything of greatness or lasting value if you confine yourself to comfortable chances.