“What I would give to win a gold medal,” a friend said as she watched the triumphant winners at the Olympics.
But what would she give? Triumphs invariably have a price tag. Sure, it would be thrilling to be Simone Biles in her high-flying days. But for every medalist, before those podium moments there are years of relentless, often painful, practice day after day, while childhood slips away. As Biles poignantly revealed, the wear and tear isn’t only on muscles, but on fragile psyches. Though her story is one of the more dramatic, it isn’t unique. What’s the psychological burden on an Olympic hopeful whose years of training die in a second, with just one misstep? Years ago I cringed in empathic pain as a young skater who was performing perfect axles, slipped and fell – her lifelong dream crashing down with her.
Of course it isn’t solely athletes who trade their lives for creative success. I can’t count the times someone has told me it must be “wonderful” to be a writer. Well, yes – but not always. It’s incomparable when what you’re struggling to express finally breathes on the pages. But what about all the desperate hours when your muse is MIA?
Famed author Margaret Atwood ruefully recalls the time she was halfway through the manuscript of her new book when she had to face the fact that it had gone in the wrong direction. “For a writer that’s Tylenol time,” she says. (Often the recourse is more harmful than Tylenol.)
I have a friend who’s been working on her novel for years, with nothing but her talent and faith in her writing to sustain her. So many of us sacrifice ‘normal” times with family and friends in exchange for lonely hours of work that has no guarantee of success. Even if you are pleased with your book – or opera or symphony or painting – reviewers might not be. Beethoven not only had to cope with increasing deafness, but turn a metaphorical deaf ear to critics who labeled his Second Symphony a “wounded dragon.” Puccini reputedly never got over the initial withering response to “Madama Butterfly.” It takes immeasurable courage and faith to pick yourself up and go on.
Even if your challenge is as seemingly simple as learning to knit a complicated pattern, or cook a gourmet dish, or play a musical instrument, or master a technology like zoom – or whatever you attempt – there will be many times when you question whether it’s worth the effort. I found a sage answer in the words of author and artist Morgan Harper Nichols : “Fall in love with the masterpiece and also the paint on the floor.” Of course, Nichols didn’t mean to literally love cleaning up the messy floor, but the need to embrace the loneliness and frustration that might – or might never – lead to victory.
It’s for each of us to decide whether the price of success is too steep – or a bargain.
BOOKS: COME AND GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com, TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.