Daring Greatly
Or How Failure Frees Us to Succeed

Unexpectedly, GiGi had to come North to the big city, Chicago, to go with Forrest for some medical procedure at the University of Chicago Hospital.  They flew from Atlanta, which is near to Buena Vista, where they live.  However, it is a major undertaking for someone in her early 90s.  Nonetheless, it gives us an opportunity to chat.  While Forrest received medical attention, I drove GiGi to my place in Crown Point and had lunch outside on the warm fall day.   

We caught up on the happenings of our families.  Having done updating our family files for the other person, GiGi started to talk about some articles that I had written since we last chatted.  She mentioned Ayanna's observation about me since dancing with death and my return from Myanmar.  GiGi added that I must be proud of her, to which I nodded. 

GiGi also likes my essays regarding talking with seemingly inanimate objects like the pine table.  She liked the parallel that I drew of rebirth and renewal between the table and myself. 

Then GiGi touched upon teaching Jack and Owen about fossils and relating the fossils that they have to pictures of what some of the fossils evolved.  GiGi added that she enjoyed the tie in with the poem, The Chambered Nautilus.  I added that Jack and Owen want to learn about anything from paintings, fossils, battleships, and poetry. 

However, as honest as GiGi's comments were, she wanted to move beyond those essays.  I could tell that something was inside of her that she wanted to express.  Therefore, whatever I said about the articles that she mentioned was short.  I was anxious for her to put all her cards on the table.  Picking up upon a verbal trait that GiGi has when she wants me to understand something, I mimicked her, "And...." 

GiGi laughed as if to say, "Touché."  Then she paused and did not say anything for some time as she mulled over her Socratic question.  Finally, GiGi asked, "I watched the video and read Doubling Down.  Do you have any idea how long your Clarence Page-esque style of prefacing your essay lasted?  I could have read your article several times in the time your video took.  Apparently, you wanted to get your message out.  Why?"

I paused.  I thought that I explained why I dealt with the topic of doubling down in the video and essay.  I just said that it was important to me emotionally...very important. 

GiGi nodded in agreement and then added, "There were several times that it seemed like you were beginning to choke-up as you spoke.  You were talking from your heart.  You called it your gut.  I guess you wanted to express your sincerity with the noun, gut."

I attempted to laugh off GiGi's question about being a bit emotional during parts of my video.  I wasn't sure others who don't know me would have even noticed.  Nevertheless, I did indicate that toward the end of the video, that I was quite direct and serious.  My face seemed to have gotten a little red. 

GiGi agreed and added, "You reminded me of Clarence Darrow at the Scopes Monkey Trial.  You were determined to get your message across and have it understood completely by all your viewers.  That is determination.  Ayanna mentioned that you have validated yourself since the dances and Myanmar.  There is an indication."

I replied that my two dances and the month in Myanmar transformed who I am.  All three events have positively influenced me.  However, I have a limited amount of time in my life, 10-20 years, to accomplish things that I deem important to me.  I told GiGi about wanting to interview Obama, the Lady, and Page.  That is not just a wish; it is a sincere desire.  I have worked at each over the past few years...and failed. 

GiGi's retort was short, "Why are Obama, the Lady, and Page so important to you?  How many other people in the world would love to interview those three?  And you feel you failed at your effort to interview them?  And...?"

I told GiGi that I understood that some old professor living alone in Crown Point, IN does not make me the Charlie Rose of Northwest Indiana.  Nevertheless, I have interviewed some important people over the years.  I understood GiGi's comment.  I paused a moment and gathered my thoughts and attempted to justify my incentive. 

I do not like to fail, which goes back to when my parents moved to Mt. Lebanon.  GiGi knew about going from an above average student to an average student in the 19th best school system in the States adversely affected me.  I also do not like feeling dumb, which explains why I love teaching so much.  I do not want others to feel what I felt.  That's why I love to teach college students and especially Jack and Owen. 

GiGi's Socratic response was "So it has to do with vicariously identifying with others?  Is that the reason?" 

I agreed with GiGi, and said that we will all suffer in our lives.  I just don't want others to suffer needlessly.  They do not have to suffer like I did.  However, my suffering caused me to be motivated and not fail.  I went on about not being able to make any significant ding in the universe.  However, I can help students and some of the less well-off people that I know both here and abroad.  That is why I am still teaching and want to find additional employment to realize some of my dreams. 

GiGi understood from where I was coming.  However, she pushed forward with another dangling question, "Is that all there is?" 

GiGi confused me with her question.  So I asked her whether GiGi would like to sing Peggy Lee's song, Is That All There Is?  I figured that I needed time to regroup my thoughts.  I tried to process what I might have missed explaining to GiGi.  Besides, she already knew just about everything about me.  It all goes back to not wishing to fail.

Nonetheless, GiGi asked again, "So failing is a big issue for you; isn't it?  You have to win all the time.  If you have a batting average of .333 in the ballgame of life, you see that as a failure on your part.  Right?"

Finally, I blurted out, "Where are you going?  Just cut to the chase.  I don't like failing especially when I have tried and failed.  If I didn't try, then it would be my fault.  However, when I try and fail, whose fault is it?  Mine.  I can't get some interviews, jobs, etc.  I can't even find the ruby ring that was my dad's.  All of those things and others are issue about which I have failed in my attempts.  That is not reassuring to me personally; would it be for you?"

Description: C:\Users\Al\Pictures\1 Al Photos\367CANON\IMG_6706.JPG

GiGi knew that she hit a nerve with my reply.  Therefore, she changed the topic...for a moment.  For the next several minutes, we talked about Jack and Owen.  She wanted to know what I was going to get them for Christmas.  I responded that I have already gotten them each another painting that they each like, although I still need to get some more fossils for their collection.  I want their collection of fossils to rival the Field Museum's collection. 

Then GiGi came roaring back with another comment.  "You really benefit from your mentors in life haven't you?"

I didn't understand where she was headed with that statement, but I nodded.  In addition, I added that most of my mentors I have never meet.  Yet, they have all helped me in my understanding of the world.

GiGi then commented upon how often I allude to what you learned from them in my articles.  I could feel it coming.  I had no idea about where she was headed, but I just sat there waiting.  Then it came, "What is significant about Teddy Roosevelt...in your life?"  It was clear that she did not want some general comment about his greatness as a man, president, or world leader. 

I paused for a moment and tried to recall a part of Roosevelt's Man in the Arena speech...without messing up too much of it.

...there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

GiGi applauded quietly in praise of my reciting of the last half of his speech, which was at least 80% verbatim. 

Description: C:\Users\Al\Pictures\1 Al Photos\367CANON\IMG_6702.JPG

Then once her applause was over, she asked, "And...?"

Finally, I took a breath and said, "I don't know how some of my goals will work out in the next few years.  However, I will be true to my beliefs regardless.  If I fail, so be it.  However, if I don't dare greatly, I will surely fail."

This time came no applause from GiGi only, "Bravo."

Description: C:\Users\Al\Pictures\1 Al Photos\366CANON\IMG_6698.JPG

Then I added a postscript.  "I want a chance at the plate to hit my homerun...at least one more time.  If dancing with death frees one to live, daring greatly frees one to fail.  Ironically, it frees one to do things about which one could be successful also." 



Visit the GiGi page to read more about this topic.

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.