I grew up in the country, in the rolling golden hills of West Marin. There were creeks that flowed through our town, woods where animals lived, trees to climb, places to hide, and you could spend all day exploring, picking blackberries, ...
I grew up in the country, in the rolling golden hills of West Marin. There were creeks that flowed through our town, woods where animals lived, trees to climb, places to hide, and you could spend all day exploring, picking blackberries, or trying to catch waterskeeters with your bare hands.
We did all of those things.
By “we,” I mean the grubby pack of neighborhood kids who ranged between the ages of eight and ten. We ran wild in the summers—bare feet, tangled hair, faces smeared with berry juice. We spent our days together, going home only for meals and reluctantly then. We had a big project in the works. We were building a trap.
I’m not sure where the idea first came from, but it kept us busy all summer long.
First we had to dig a hole—the biggest, deepest one we could, as if we were digging all the way to China. This took days. We used sticks, and gardening spades snuck out of garages without permission. Grownups were not to know what we were doing. Everyone knows that grownups ruin secrets.
We used plastic buckets borrowed from a neighborhood sandbox to remove the dirt, scattering it around the forest so no one would notice. By the time we were finished, the tallest of us could stand in the hole and his head was below surface. We hauled him up using a rope ladder taken from a backyard play-set.
Once the hole was big enough, we laid branches across it—big ones first, then twigs. We wove them together until they covered the entrance, disguising what we had dug. Then we scattered leaves and bits of moss and grass until the hole looked just like the rest of the forest floor.
Our idea was that someone—or something—might walk across this carpet of sticks and leaves. The weight of their body would break the sticks and they would tumble into the hole where we would find them the next day, our prisoner, trapped. The details of what we wanted to catch were unclear, even at the time, but I think we might have hoped to catch a yeti.
We never caught anything. We weren’t living at the right elevation to catch a yeti, but that’s not what amazes me when I think back. The thing that amazes me is this:
It never occurred to us that we might fail.
This was an impressive undertaking—requiring secrecy, stolen equipment, organization and sustained effort over days. And yet we were so excited, so entranced by what we were doing. We didn’t worry how stupid we might look, or what people might say if it didn’t work out. We didn’t weigh pros and cons or make a backup plan, we just went for it. It never occurred to us that we might fail.
So often we adults get mired in the doubts, the fears, the second-guessing. We do this to protect ourselves, to avoid being vulnerable and afraid, but often it stops us. We end up not trying the new idea, not applying for the job or moving to the new city or creating the thing that makes us happy. We overthink and end up immobilized. Often we don’t even try.
That childhood trap never caught anything, but I don’t remember being disappointed. The outcome was beside the point. We had such a good time, we learned so much. Every day was fun, every day was an adventure.
The thing you try now might not succeed. It might be a colossal failure. This is true.
It might also teach you the skills you need for your next project (the one that does succeed). It might introduce you to people you need to know. It might get your name out there. It might change your life. It might be the most fun ever.
My inner ten-year-old—the one who still has dirty knees, a berry-stained face, and tangled hair—wants to ask this: What would you do if it didn’t occur to you that you might fail?
Happy weekending, everyone.
***This post was inspired by a conversation between Chris Gillibeau and Chase Jarvis on Creative Live, and by this interview with my friend Andrea Scher. These are the sort of people to surround yourself with if you want to be inspired.