There is a Japanese saying that I have engraved on a bracelet I often wear. Fall Seven Times, Stand up Eight. This phrase has served me well over my years as a writer, because I wrote lots and lots of manuscripts (around five or six, depending on how you count) before I got to the level to be published.
Very few things of tremendous value come easily. One of my famous quotes from a movie is in A League of their Own. Geena Davis is struggling to play baseball in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. She is juggling family complications, the physical demands of the sport, and profound loneliness. She is ready to throw in the towel and tells her manager, Tom Hanks, that she didn’t expect it to be so hard. And Hanks replies: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
I love this line, as it encapsulates the odd combination of struggle and satisfaction that comes from tackling something really big. Most really worthwhile things in life are hard. Raising kids, starting a business, training for a sport, writing a book….it is the hard that makes it great. Savor it. Embrace it. I believe that people underestimate what it takes to succeed in life, because frankly, we rarely witness successful people fail. We see brilliant athletes perform, watch famous actors on the screen, etc. For every famous athlete, how many kids never made the cut? Or how many actresses are still waiting tables, praying for their big break? Those failures are invisible to the wider public.
Just how many times should you fall before you throw in the towel and move on to something else? That of course, is a very personal decision. How badly does the aspiring singer want it? How good is her voice? What financial commitments does she have, and what sort of sacrifices will her family endure while she pursues her dream? The honesty and humility it takes to fairly assess yourself is something not everyone can do. Perhaps the singer was the very best soprano in her high school class. Perhaps she won first-place in a city-wide competition with hundreds of other sopranos. All well and good….but when she is competing on the national level with the very best sopranos from every high school in the entire country, now she is facing off against thousands of terrific singers. Add that to the tens of thousands who are within ten years of her age, and you see how small her odds are of making it to the Metropolitan Opera. And most of us will never know about those thousands of hopeful singers, because the only people we know are Lena Horne and Beverly Sills.
What to do? If she can’t be the next Beverly Sills, does that make her a failure? Of course not. But if the only thing that will satisfy her is that level of fame, she is unlikely to be successful. Perhaps she can be the best singer in her Church. Or share her love of music with her children.
If she loves singing for its own sake, she will enjoy the journey as she explores “what if.”
Back to Tom Hanks. “It is supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.” You should never give up on something only because it is hard. Find a better reason.