"Three things are necessary for the salvation of man;
to know what he ought to believe,
to know what he ought to desire,
and to know what he ought to do."
-- Thomas Aquinas
Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Except cited and quoted portions.
Every human ever born came into this life with a dream. Separated from all the other wants and desires, it is a dream that arises from the recognition by the soul of the gifts and talents singular to that person. Essentially, it is the assessment of what can be built using the raw materials available.
That collection of specialities is different for every person. My son is a genius of sorts in the computer field. Consequently, his work language is largely mathematical. When I look over his shoulder, I see a page filled with number and notations, pi, theta, delta, sigma, tau, omega... It is a language that, alas, will forever be indecipherable to his father. You could say that it's all...um..."Greek" to me.
I have become a writer, of sorts. No, I haven't written The Great American Novel, though I have been a columnist. While I can't translate mathematics, I have been able to recognize the momentum of thought and emotion from the heart and mind and translate that into words, phrases, and sentences. Most times, that process is slow and frustrating. But occasionally, the walls are felled, the gates are opened, and those impulses flood directly from the heart to the fingers, at a rate which challenges the hands to keep pace.
This is, for all intents and purposes, what I want; my desire, if you will. For everyone else, that desire is particular to each one. It may be the elegance of a perfect equation, or the production of something beautiful from a piece of wood, a lump of clay, a jar of paint. My sister, a career educator, has spoken of that magical moment when a teacher witnesses the light of comprehension dawning in the eyes of a student. I remember the words of a mother after seeing her child, now an adult, graduate from college. "In that moment, I realized that all the effort, all the pain, all the worry and sleepless nights over the last 21 years expended in trying to shape a life had finally been justified. My child has achieved; therefore as a mother, I have also achieved."
For some, the particular dream is identified early. Astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson knew at a very young age that his destiny lay in solving the mysteries of the stars. For others, that realization doesn't arrive for years, perhaps decades. Sometimes, those dreams are felled by the limitations of one's gifts. I will labor for hours over a particular essay, and at the end feel proud of what I created. Then, I read the work of some of the great writers, or even those columnists who possess the nirvana of a steady gig, and in that comparison, I realize that I am still a piker. This saddens me for a time, but only for a time. A writer, I have discovered, must have limitless amounts of confidence and optimism. These are the food source that fuels creativity, for the ability to do, must have its roots in the capacity to desire. If one loses confidence, the dream can dim and perhaps fade entirely.
It is important to realize that there is a difference between talent that is limited, and talent that is untrained. Education is the key to any success. This can be formal classroom training, the sharing by a caring mentor, or the wisdom gleaned from the school of hard knocks. A person should never draw a box around themselves and pronounce, "This is all I can be." As any educator or drill sergeant can attest, what we think we can achieve is only about two-thirds of what we can achieve. That missing third is almost always recognized by someone on the outside, who is motivated to reach inside ourselves and yank it out where we can finally see what we've been missing.
Once that hidden potential is out in the open, it is finally up to us, and only us, to do something with it. Helen Keller said,
"It is up to us to pray, not for tasks equal to our powers,
but for powers equal to our tasks;
to go forward with a great desire
forever beating at the door of our hearts
as we travel toward our distant goal."
The harsh reality is that we can never be better at whatever we do unless we tackle difficult things. It is only by challenging ourselves that we can grow beyond what we are. It is all too easy to coast through life. The problem with that approach is that once you run out of hill, you come to a halt. The only thing that can change that situation is to get off the bicycle and push it up the next hill. This is a decision that only we as individuals can make.
Another harsh reality is that no journey is without it's particular rough patches. Actor Michael J. Fox said,
"There's always failure.
And there's always disappointment.
And there's always loss.
But the secret is learning from the loss,
and realizing that none of those holes
We will fail. That is unavoidable. The best hitters in baseball, those whose plaques line the walls of the Hall of Fame still failed 6 or 7 times out of ten. Behind every successful book lies a trail of numerous rejected manuscripts. Behind Thomas Edison's successful light bulb were, by his own admission, 10,000 failed attempts. The key is in how we view failure. If we see it as a deal-breaker, one-and-done, and give up any further attempts, than it is the end of the road. But we must all know that failure is in reality only the fertilizer of success. If we take the time to analyze what didn't work, and acknowledge those elements that did, we can apply that knowledge to the next effort. Here, our ambition must be tempered with patience and buttressed by an unshakeable faith in ourselves.
In writing, in some cases, success of a particular project may mean something as simple as getting it in front of the right editor. There are volumes of books and scripts which were rejected by numerous publishers or studios but which became tremendous successes when someone finally saw the potential of what lay before them. Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull received 18 rejections before it was finally published. Remember "Chicken Soup for the Soul"? Rejected 33 times. Robert Pirsig's quirkily philosophical "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"? 121 turndowns. These are all now widely successful and popular books. No matter how many times you get knocked down, as long as you get up again, success is always possible.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said,
"Imagination is the beginning of creation.
You imagine what you desire,
you will what you imagine,
and at last, you create what you will."
Search your heart, mine your desires. Identify what you want, discover what you can do, and then go do it.
Don't ever settle for being average.