Do you watch the Olympics and wonder where you fall on the spectrum of exceptionalism?
Not that there’s a lot of attraction for me in prancing around in a bedazzled gymnastics leotard or running, running, running in circles around an arena for 30+ minutes (athletics not being my strong calling in life), but there is an utter fascination I have for watching a fellow human being excel to the level of an Olympian.
In my own arena I am competitive, I want to be noticed, to have a story my children tell their children, to leave a legacy that will be noted as unusual and inherently useful.
I don’t think I’m unusual in that desire.
I also don’t think I always set myself up for success. Sometimes the lure of the sofa, of that extra episode of The Bachelor or Wipeout, or that difficult conversation that has to take place before the next step of progress… well, those obstacles crop up and it’s easier to embrace mediocrity, go with the flow, or relax a little.
Too much of that and you realize you never swam out to meet your ship coming in.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” Randy Pausch, Last Lecture. (Here’s the You Tube link for this quote, the video is 76 minutes long. I listened to the audiobook with Lizard on a cross-country journey. Both of us were changed. Really.)
There are times I wake up to four little faces and feel completely overwhelmed by this life I’m living. I always knew I wanted to be a mother and have a larger family, but I also had a strong desire to be the president of a university, a published and successful author, and a secular, feminine success story.
These children’s faces, they crowd out my other dreams and make me wonder at what point I’ll come to my senses, realize four children is an insanely, irresponsibly large number of children for any family? (Much less a family whose birther is a woman who doesn’t rank highly on the maternal aptitude test?!)
I’m not up to this challenge. It’s messy. It’s exhausting. It’s rewarding, but it’s not always pretty. Yet it’s also more important, long-term, than anything else I can conceive, any figurative gold medal that can be hung from my neck.
We all love our stories of ridiculous success, the Michael Phelps, the Secretariat. We love tales of greatness that make our throats close and eyes mist with inspiration while stirring music plays in the background.
But in searching for our own BIG story, we tend to forget the greatness in our everyday, in the willingness to make irrational sacrifices of consistency are what make up success. We ignore or forget the truth that every success story looks hard, ugly and — in some lights — broken before they become worthy of soul-stirring musical accompaniment.
Yet success stories don’t ever look like quitters. Because the little, everyday, consistent choices create a story titled “Exception.”
No television cameras were there for Michael Phelps’ early morning practices day in and day out. No one was applauding his mom while she figured out how to feed that kid massively high calorie meals on the vague guess that the potential and passion she saw in her son would come to fruition and be rewarded with golden medallions on a world-wide stage.
I’ve been reading posts of parents sending their kids to school this morning. I suppose it’s the first day of a month of various first days of school.
What are these kids being taught about success? That it’s only for the fortunate few, those gifted with athletic ability, uncommon intelligence or unusual moxie?
Or are they being taught that success in any arena is the result of courage and repetitive hard-fought, smelly, sticky, sweaty, unreasonable effort?
They’re being taught what you believe to be true because they’re watching you find your BIG story.
So. What are you going to do with that?
This post was originally published August 6, 2012 and is being recycled as part of the “I’ve Been Around” summer! Hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!