In my last post, I shared one of my favorite quotes, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are made for.” You and I are not made for the harbor either, but many of us settle for shallow waters to avoid doing the work required to live the life we were meant to live. I was stunned by the response, and I’ll be chewing on the comments and emails I received for a long while.
One email that stood out came from Lisa, who wrote, “I think it’s too late for me. I had a shot at a great life when I was younger, but I missed my chance. Now my circumstances won’t allow me to change things. My life is what it is. I’m stuck.”
Lisa wrote what most of us have felt at times, or maybe even feel now. And her letter reminded me of a pivotal conversation I had with my Mom many years ago that shapes much of my thinking today.
I was debating the possibility of making what felt like a big change. To take hold of a certain opportunity, I’d have to let go of some safe and comfortable things about my life. I’d have to trade security for the chance at something better. But if I failed, I might lose what I had to begin with. I was nervous and confused, so I’d made no choice at all. I just stood still and did nothing. As I laid out my options, Mom was only half listening. She already knew something I was about to learn.
“Can I tell you something, Chance? Looking back over my life at 58, I know some things now I wish I’d known earlier.”
She paused, thinking it over, then said, “Nothing is ever as final as it looks at the time”.
“Okay… What are you thinking of specifically?”
“I could give you a lifetime of examples, but one is when you were just a kid and your Dad started his business. He asked me to join him, and I was scared to death to leave my job. It was the only secure thing in our lives, and I was afraid to give it up. It seemed reckless to me to leave a steady paycheck and benefits, especially with a young family.”
“But you did it”.
“I did it because my belief in your Dad was bigger than my fear. But trust me, my fear was still big enough to make us both miserable.” I laughed. “I’m glad he’s not here right now. Don’t tell him I said he was right.” I laughed again.
“You’ll make your share of mistakes, even if you’re careful, Chance”, she said. “The good news is, as long as you’re breathing, you’ve still got time to start again.”
(I love that. Even writing the words all these years later does my heart some good.)
“From where I’m sitting now, I see that we had plenty of time to fail and start again. Of course, at the time I felt like it was make or break. But in reality, we could have failed and started over at 30 – and failed again, and started over at 40 – and even again at 50. It doesn’t always feel like you CAN take a risk when you’re in it. But I see now that nothing is forever, even success, even failure. And more often than not, life honors bold moves… that is, assuming you’re bold, and not just stupid.”
She got quiet for a moment, and I could feel something new settling on her. “You know what else?”, she said. “I’ve been telling myself I’m too old to learn to swim for 40 years. Now how ridiculous is that? And I’ve told myself I’m too old to go back to school for 35. But even if I’d returned to school at 50, I’d have my degree and could be teaching by now if I wanted. You see? Nothing’s as final as it seems. There’s always time to start again… In fact, I might just take a few classes next semester.”
“Great – and I’ll sign you up for swimming lessons tomorrow.”
“Don’t push it, buddy.”
We were soon on to something else, but I’ve carried that conversation with me ever since. For me, it’s taken the sting out of risk, and even failure. And as I’ve thought about it over the years, I’ve come to realize that Mom and Dad did start again – and again – and again. Maybe we all do. Maybe that’s the big lesson of life.
As long as we’re breathing, we’ve still got time to start again.
You, me… and you too, Lisa.