Risks and Other Stuff
I recently read that if you don’t have enough failures in your life it means you haven’t tried enough things. Let me phrase this from a personal viewpoint. If I can’t look back and see a long list of failures – and included among them at least one or two that could be labeled ‘spectacular’ – it means I haven’t stretched myself out enough, gone all in chasing one crazy idea or another, been filled with such a burning desire for a goal, journey, or adventure that I haven’t taken some degree of personal risk far beyond the coming and goings of my daily life. Risks. Maybe I measure my life in the risks taken.
Elsewhere I hear that in order to come up with some good ideas you have to come up with lots of bad ones. It’s suggested to become an idea-generating machine, and the expectation is that most won’t be any good, or very good, or realistic even when stretched out, or too crazy even for a fire-breathing, goal-chasing, all in dream-chaser. But just over there, among all those dumb ideas, will be found an outlier – the exception, an explosion of “Yes! Yes! Yes!”. And with enough thinking and brainstorming more than one. More than two. Like flecks of gold dust scattered over the bottom of a flowing stream. Ideas that are meant only for you – for me. Ideas to grasp, ideas to squeeze with love and gratitude, for the opportunity to “get bigger” To grow as a person chasing after them. Even – Aha! – even if they turn into failures.
So lots of ideas and lots of risks resulting in lots of failures, and I have had lots and lots of ideas – I’ve had a ton lately – and some are truly monumentally stupid, but some have offered a vehicle for stretching out. And, yes, looking back, there are nowhere near enough failures in my life. And especially failures of a spectacular nature. Let me mention a few of each, failures and ideas, and add something else.
I traveled across the country to begin a job as the Director of Adolescent Services for Walden House in San Francisco, by far and away making more money than I ever had (or have since), for an agency well-respected and with programming throughout California. I was charged with one primary task – stop the flood of financial loss by doing whatever was necessary to keep kids in the residential programs. Some eight months or so later I was called down to the administration building and told I was being relieved of my duties, someone was going to be placed in a new position above me, and there was going to be a big ole pay cut. Because I had failed to stem the bleeding. I took a risk to move across the country and try for something bigger. According to the agency, I had failed.
But just think. I haven’t lost thousands in the stock market – never invested – I haven’t been ship-wrecked on an island attempting to sail around the world cause I never did attempt that, or been mugged in London or Karachi cause I never left the country, or lost a home to foreclosure because I never bought one, or lots of other of the kinds of big deals people fail at all the time because they made the attempt. The job at Walden House was minor compared to these. I look back on my life and see not enough stretching out to try and do really big things. I’m not being harsh with myself here, it’s the facts. And I’m not all wracked with guilt for a life have-lived, I don’t feel that way. But there are regrets.
Regarding ideas. Now there, on the other hand, when it comes to me, there is no shortage. And, interestingly, especially in this last decade – my seventh – on the planet. The idea piece I read recently suggested coming up with and writing down 10 new ideas every morning. And if that felt too difficult, make it 20. I’ve actually done this the past two days and I thought I’d share with you what I, off the top of my head, came up with. Here goes — To act on the “idea” idea. Pay the closest attention to my Aha moment of a week ago with all future decisions. Follow my inspired “To Do” list to a tee. Write in my morning pages three things I’m grateful for, three things that would make today great, three positive affirmations. Walk longer than yesterday. Make my lunch coffee and almond butter. Go outside and visualize four fabulously rich and productive mini-gardens for vegetables and flowers. Sit in the afternoon recliner (outside) and brainstorm three times. Call someone I’ve ignored too long. Make a low-ball offer on something way cool on Ebay. Google possum aggressive tendencies (saw one by the porch this morning). Walk once around Laurelhurst Park and evaluate back and right knee pain. Find the devotion to write and post a new Blog post. Blow-off the poetry Meet-Up tonight for loving dinner with my wife. Have another Zine brainstorm in the outside recliner in the dark, creatures or no. Wash my car. Bring total theater to potential job interview. Google the “the day I became a better writer” suggestion I just read. Call Paul L. Everything done on yesterday’s and today’s To Do list. I know – mostly straightforward and relatively boring, some I went right ahead and did, one I’m doing this very second, others waiting on me, some I’m throwing out. And this is only two days’ worth. Imagine when I get to day 27 and have had to come up with 270 ideas.
Truth be told, I have had some whopper ideas the last couple of months and I’ve started chasing some of them. You know what, my life has gotten bigger. Sunday Morning Conversations; Create a Zine; couch surf in San Francisco and Seattle and Massachusetts; consider going back to work; make a podcast; change the way I donate money; get up way earlier every day; join a Board of Directors for a spiritual guidance program in Malibu, CA; couch surf in Malibu; write and post a new Blog post every day for a week; quit a support group I’ve been supported by a long time and figure out something better; fast from food regularly; take an extended trip with my wife to Marin County. That’s only a smidge of it.
So, in summation – Risks? – Too few. Ideas? – Lots. And, there’s this,l thinking about failure. When I was demoted and pay-reduced at Walden House back in late 2006 the person who was brought in to fix stuff and become my boss was a guy from the main office who – in his words – didn’t “know shit” about adolescents, but was out there on the edge when it came to puzzling things out and making them happen, with a heavy dose of courage thrown in. That person was my oft-Blog post-mentioned friend Gavin from Oakland, who I knew not at all before and has since, for all these years, become one of my three best friends in the world, an ongoing mentor to me, is just about the smartest person I know and get to hang around with, has let me “surf” in his apartment year after year, inadvertently changed my physical and emotional physique with an off-hand comment about “Keto”, and is who I trust more than most people on the planet.
I screwed the pooch and got the biggest of rewards. Sometimes within a big old failure is an even bigger opportunity, and you can call it a blessing. And the kazillions of stupid ideas I’ve had over the years? I don’t know, um, like giving up my life in Massachusetts (again) and driving to Portland, OR where I knew no one and had no job, burned through much of my savings before eventually being offered 14 bucks an hour to build a respite foster care system. Well, one Wednesday night after nine months out here I went out on a blind “Match.com” date with a woman named Susan. Scroll back to the first post in “Couch Surfing at 70” and see how that turned out.
Man, this ain’t making lemonade when life gives you lemons. Too much sugar. This is getting to swim in a clear mountain brook, naked, and finding some shiny gold thing sticking to your butt on the way out.