Last night I watched Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, a story of four friends languishing in middle age who decide to test a theory that humans are born with an alcohol deficiency of 0.05% by drinking everyday. The story closes with a quote from Denmark’s own, Soren Kierkegaard that I think articulates the need for us all, no matter our age, to take a risk:
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”
I think sometimes we feel the itch to dare but for fear of the unknown we play it safe and it’s then we start to, as Kierkegaard put it, lose ourselves.
Quit your job. Ask someone out. Move to another country.
One day in the winter of 1995 Jean-Dominique Bauby, a journalist and editor of Elle magazine, suffered a cerebrovascular seizure. When he awoke in hospital twenty days later his mind was intact yet he was paralysed from head to toe save only his left eyelid. Doctors diagnosed him with locked-in syndrome but they found a way for him to communicate by reading from a French language frequency-ordered alphabet until Bauby blinked on the letter he wanted. A word could sometimes take two minutes to transcribe.
At some point Bauby decided to write a book the only way he could, one blink at a time. It took him on average 200,000 blinks to write The Diving Bell and the Butterfly which, in the English translation, amounted to 143 pages. It’s astounding to imagine how much collective effort that took, more so on Bauby’s part.
It would be too simplistic to say that if a paralysed man can write a book with one eye why can’t we write a book (or anything) with our two working hands? With all due respect Bauby was an editor on one of the most popular magazines in France so I think it’s unlikely he doubted that his book would be published though he may have doubted whether he could finish it. If Bauby never pursued a career in journalism yet could still write well I think it’s likely publishers would have saw a market for his memoir. How many quadriplegics write memoirs with one eye?
If Bauby can write a book in the very worst of circumstances I’m sure we can do it too in less than ideal but more than acceptable conditions.
Last month I applied for a fellowship with Ann Friedman, a well-established journalist and podcaster. I hoped to learn from her and contribute to her popular newsletter but, alas, I wasn’t chosen. Turns out I was competing with 516 other people. But Ann was generous enough to leave us, the rejected, with plenty of encouragement by way of links to resources she herself relies on.
Brené Brown said in her Netflix special The Call to Courage that “You’re going to know failure if you’re brave with your life.” I love that. Sometimes bravery, and not success, becomes the important thing. I understand Brené to mean if I’m brave with my life I’ll take risks and a risk is only a risk if there’s a chance, however small, of failing.
It’s interesting – I feel encouraged by the rejection. The worst (a simple “no”) came to pass and I’m still here.
Let’s take another shot. What’s the worst that could happen?