August 13. “When I was young I observed that nine out of every ten things I did were failures, so I did ten times more work.” (George Bernard Shaw)
There are many stories of writers, like Shaw, who wrote and attempted to publish many stories and books before finally having one accepted. I can remember reading about authors and playwrights who told of being able to paper the walls of their house with their rejection letters. And in those stories I also recall them saying that they honed their craft through all of those failed attempts to become the writers that we know and remember. It makes me wonder how many thousands of others tried, found rejection and gave up. How many great novels were never written because the budding author lacked the dedication to hone his or her craft to the point of being ready for prime time?
In my own life there have been things I have tried to do where I found much more failure than success early on. When each of those things happened, I had a fundamental choice to make. Do I continue putting my shoulder to the wheel to work through the trials? Or do I give up and move on to something else?
For me that question was always best answered by considering whether I was enjoying the learning experience. If I got great joy from the activity, then it was a no-brainer and I kept working. If I found myself hating it, then I would call it a day and find something else to pursue.
Among all the things I tried and failed at early, the one that comes to mind today is playing baseball. When I first started playing I had a lot to deal with. I was one of the very few left handed players in my neighborhood, so I had few examples to work with. The mitt that I had was one that had sat in a box for years, and was actually a right-handed mitt. I would wear it on the wrong hand, or I would catch with it, then quickly take it off to throw the ball back in. My brother helped solve that problem when he bought me my first, left-handed mitt.
But the trials didn’t stop there. While I was great with a rubber ball, I was actually very afraid of a hard ball. I was afraid of being hit with it, and that it would hurt. When I batted, I was constantly stepping out. When the ball was thrown my way I turned my body to protect myself, and frequently missed the catch. Again, my brother came to the rescue. I remember one evening as the light was fading. It was after a little league game where I’d shown a particular fear of the ball. He stood me in front of the garage at my house and proceeded to throw baseballs at me. I should point out here that my brother is 11 years older than I am. I was probably 10 years old at the time, so he would have been 21. Anyway, for a good half-hour he peppered me with the baseball. Each time I would turn my body, the next throw would come in faster. Eventually I started standing my ground and catching the ball. Over the coming weeks I got more and more confident and eventually lost my fear of the ball.
When it came to hitting, I was also a miserable failure. This was in the days when batting cages were not yet available to the masses, so it meant that to get better I just had to play more. My friends and I played endless hours of pick-up games, which were nothing more than batting practice. We all took turns hitting, pitching and fielding. Over time my ability to hit improved, as well as my fielding.
I even tried my hand at pitching (what left-handed kid hasn’t?). Sometime I will write here about the postage stamp strike zone that the darn umpire seemed to have whenever I took the mound. Oh did I mention? Yeah, that was my brother too.
I loved playing baseball, and would have chosen it over just about any other activity. Have you seen the movie “The Sandlot”? That could be a documentary of my life. At the time I imagined I would one day be Rodriguez, but the sad reality is that I was truly Smalls.
While I never found the glory and success of my baseball dreams, I enjoyed every minute of playing the game. Had I not had that enjoyment, I would never have put in the work that I did to become better.