notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Power

This week I saw the film “Bombshell.”

I worked at a cable network for fifteen years, so the subject matter intrigued me. Although I was at a different network from Fox News, I was curious if there would be parallels. How much would I recognize? Would I see situations that were similar to what I had witnessed or experienced?

Yes.

And not just at the male-dominated network where I worked. I saw familiarity in my whole work experience. I think many women can say the same.

I have a terrible confession to make here (and I don’t believe I am alone.) I never experienced blatant sexual harassment at my cable network. But I was the witness to it. Often. And here is the confession: There is a small part of me that felt that I was not sexually harassed because I was just not pretty enough. And that small part of me felt inadequate that I was not more attractive.

Isn’t that sad?

That the very lack of harassment could diminish my self-worth?

How I hope that young women today (and young men) know how unhealthy that is. Sexual harassment is not approval. Sexual harassment s not affirming. It is not a compliment.

It is an abuse of power.

But it was not just the sexual harassment that I recognized in the movie.

It was fear.

My own experience with workplace abuse was not sexual in nature. It was just plain old abuse. But the reaction was the same. And that’s what we need to recognize. That all abuse elicits the same reaction.

Fear.

And not just for the person who is being abused.

After many wonderful, successful years in a company I loved, there was a change of management. The encouraging and supportive executives I had worked for were gone, and I did not have a good relationship with the folks who took their place.

My own immediate superior was openly hostile. I believe she may have been directed by those even higher up the ranks to rid the company of certain individuals that were strongly connected to the old guard. And I was one.

After a dozen years of glowing reviews and numerous promotions, suddenly nothing I did was right. If I made a decision, I should have consulted her. If I asked her what to do, I had no initiative. My work was late. My work was hurried. My work was superficial. My work was too complicated. I didn’t support my staff. I coddled my staff.

I believe her goal was to make my life so miserable that I would quit. So the company would not only be rid of me, but could absolve themselves of any responsibility.

But I had invested a lot in my career. And I had a pension to consider. And future employment.

So I toughed it out for a very long time. I cried more than I had ever cried before. But not at work. I didn’t cry at the office.

I was not the only one who did not love the new boss. Some of my coworkers and subordinates were subject to similar treatment. And several more – though treated well themselves – were outraged at the unfairness they saw me endure.

One day a few staff members came to me and expressed their genuine concern. They encouraged me to file a complaint with Human Resources. If I spoke up, they promised, they would have my back. They would confirm my complaint and rise up to support me.

And after many sleepless nights, that’s what I did.

In “Bombshell,” Gretchen Carlson files suit against Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. She is sure that if she speaks up, she will give others the courage to also go public. There is a scene where she asks how many other women have come forward.

No one.

This is the scene that staggered me.

Because when I went to HR with my complaint, that’s what happened. No one from my staff spoke up in support.

No one.

And I couldn’t really be angry with them. They were experiencing the same thing I was.

Fear.

Abuse of power creates fear.

And the fear permeates. No one wants to be hurt. No one wants retaliation. No one wants to put themselves or their families or their livelihood at risk.

I loved my staff. And I hated how my situation added to their fear. They weren’t to blame.

And although I do blame the boss who was abusive, in some of my kinder moments, I wonder what pressure she might have been under. Who did she fear?

There will always be people with more power than others. And it will not always be used well.

But if you have a little bit of power, you may be able to make a difference.

There was one person in HR who believed me. And although I cannot disclose the details of how it turned out, I was okay.

And I eventually stopped crying.

Two Lessons A Year

Another Year.

Another Birthday.

A year ago I was sitting here writing about all the stuff I wanted to learn in the twenty years I figured I had left in my life. If I was right, and I’m always right (in my mind, anyway), I now have nineteen years left.

Did I learn enough this year?

Probably not.

I’ve learned that math doesn’t always work. Taking care of two dogs is five times harder than taking care of one dog. But also, two dogs is six times more love than one dog. So I am one dog ahead of the game.

I also learned a lesson about friendship that I am astonished I had not already learned by now.

Sometimes we make friends out of convenience. We want someone to have a chat and a cup of coffee with. And we find someone close by, with a similar schedule to ours. And bingo! – instant friends. And that’s fine. But sometimes we are so happy to find a new friend that we don’t pay enough attention to whether that person is really a good fit for us. So we are eventually surprised to be having coffee dates with folks we don’t really like all that much.

But that’s not the main lesson here.

I have also learned: It’s okay. I don’t think having some conversation over coffee always needs to be exquisitely meaningful. Not everyone has to be your soul-mate to have a place in your life.

And that’s about it. One year. Two lessons.

And coming up?

Ah, that’s the big question.

Because the next birthday is one of those huge ones. A milestone birthday. I am 69 now. And next year at this time I will be 70.

So if there is anything I’ve ever wanted to learn/accomplish/experience before I turned 70, I have one year left to do it.

I don’t want to put pressure on this old body and brain. If I accomplished two things this past year, I reckon I can do two things in the coming year.

But what? I don’t want to skydive or run a marathon or even read War And Peace.

But I do want two things that will be my own marathon… my own jumping out of a plane… my own saga.

First, I want to finish my third novel. I started it more than a year ago, but didn’t get far. I’ve written two books. Two books in seven years sounds like quite an accomplishment. And it is. But it is also two books in 69 years. I think perhaps I can do three in 70 years. The end result may not even be worth publishing – who knows? – but I want to see it through. If for no other reason than I want to find out how that crazy story ends.

Second. Well, this is the big one. I want to find the delicate balance between being nice to everyone and telling people what I want.

This has always been difficult for me.

I am a nice person. I am nice to everyone. All the time. And I am happy to be nice. I want to stay nice.

But I also want to be nice to myself.

My life is like a seesaw where the “nice to everyone” side is a big giant guy of 300 pounds, sitting stubbornly on the ground, while the “saying what I want” side is an underweight little urchin hanging onto the top of the seesaw, knowing that she will either be up there forever or will come down in a terrible crash.

So far, I have stayed up there, high in the air, being nice to the big brute so I don’t come crashing down. Never asking, “Please, what about me?”

But I think I am ready to balance this damn seesaw of Life. I think I can be nice and still ask for what I need.

I am giving myself one year to figure it out.

When I am seventy, I will be officially old. I want to be a strong and kind old lady. I believe I’m almost there. I’m only a year away.

****

PS. Every year on my birthday, I post an unretouched selfie. The purpose, as I have been stating for eight years, is twofold –

To say to the world, “Getting old isn’t so bad.”

And also to say, “Screw you, Mother Nature. I’m NOT QUITE OLD.”

Today, this is what 69 looks like.

Not Scary

A few nights ago, I drove by a building I used to know.

I’ve been by that building hundreds of times, but not at night. The darkness made all the difference.

I worked there. At night.

It was my first job after college. I guess it was a terrible job, but it took me six months in a very bad economy to get that one offer. I jumped on it.

It was 1975. The company was one of the first cable TV companies in Connecticut, and cable was in its infancy. Our company had just 1/3 of one town cabled. The subscription cost $5.95 a month, and for that sum what you got – was not a lot.

It was basically an antenna service. People were seeing a clear picture for the first time. And they loved it. No ghosting, no rolling, no grainy, shadowy images. And channels! We offered – not a lot.

The only channel you might recognize today was TBS. Brought to you by satellite. And we used the satellite to pick up independent stations from New York and New Jersey, which Connecticut folks loved, because it meant The Yankees.

That was it. Clear local stations and a few brought in by satellite (when everything was working, which was only sometimes). And yet people called us and lined up at the door and flagged down our trucks and begged us to come down their street.

We did have unused channel capacity. So we showed old tapes on one channel, and we had three other channels – weather reports and a channel guide and sports scores. All typed in by hand.

Guess who typed in that stuff.

ME!

Every evening, I typed in the weather and the sports scores as the they came in via teletype machine. I typed in the next day’s channel guide, cribbing from a TV Guide and the newspaper.

I wasn’t a very good typist. The Rockford Files always came out The Rockford Flies, and more than once the Public Access Channel became the Pubic Access Channel.

But they didn’t fire me. I think because no one else wanted the job.

I came in at 3:30 and worked till midnight.

At 3:30, the building was pretty busy. At 5:00, when all the installers came back from the road, it was bustling. And then … not a lot.

Everyone was gone by 6:00. And I was there in the building alone until midnight.

I didn’t tell my parents I was there alone. I told them there was a security guard. There wasn’t. Just little me. One hundred and ten pounds with an extra two pounds of keys.

But here’s the thing. I loved it.

I loved walking around the building all alone. Going into the computer room with a key and the tape room with another key. Turning on lights as I entered and turning them off as I left. Eating my sandwich in the break room alone. Knowing how the games were going and the latest news before anyone else.

I liked the thought that the people in the cars driving by did not know that the building was not empty. They didn’t know that a girl was in there, typing away by herself.

I liked locking up everything at midnight. Setting the alarm. Turning out all but one light and walking in the total silent darkness to my hidden car.

I guess that was when I realized I was an introvert at heart. I wasn’t a loner. I liked people. But I liked my own company. I felt energized alone. I felt powerful.

Of course, it came to an end.

One night about two in the morning, there was a break-in. I think only the petty cash box was stolen. The computer room and equipment was locked up tight – thanks to me.

It was all kept quiet. I didn’t even know about it for a while. But a very nice, very cute dispatcher decided to tell me. He said that they were all instructed, “Don’t tell Nancy.” Management did not want me to be scared. They did not want me to quit, or to insist on the security guard I told my parents we already had. The guy who told me thought it was wrong of them to keep it from me.

I told my boss that I knew. But I honestly didn’t know what I wanted him to do about it. I liked the job. But I certainly didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. Typing The Rockford Flies was bound to get old sooner or later.

They moved me to Customer Service. Days. They had a guy come in and do my old night shift.

I hated Customer Service. I didn’t like the noise level, and I didn’t like asking anyone for money. (Who knew I would end up a Financial Executive in my next life?)

But they didn’t really need me in Customer Service. I got laid off after a few months.

I hated the loss of control that comes with a layoff. I may have hated that job but I wanted to be the one that decided to stay or go.

I wasn’t really sorry though. I didn’t ask to go back to the night job.

I had learned something about myself during those long evenings. But now that I knew it, I didn’t need to do it anymore.

I learned that quiet is not scary. Solitude is not scary. My own company is not scary.

Time to go on to the next lesson.

Complaint Department

Yesterday, still in bed, I resolved to have a full day without a complaint.

I lasted until 11:00 AM.

When the telemarketer called.

I complain. You complain. My dog complains. Everyone complains.

I bet the Dalai Lama complains that the place is too damn quiet.

It’s only natural. I mean, there’s so much out there whose purpose seems to revolve around irritating us.

But I think I would be happier if I didn’t complain so much. Because complaining exists to remind us of how unhappy we are.

When I think about complaints, I see that there are various categories of complaints.

Benign Complaints.

That’s the stuff that everyone complains about – mostly just out of habit or as a filler for conversation. The Weather. That’s probably Number One. Getting Old goes in this bucket… for the most part anyway. Getting up in the morning. No one expects you to solve any of these complaints. But we agree they are universal. No one is really hurt, no one is really mad. So go right ahead – everyone will agree with you, and so those complaints feel pretty good.

Situational Complaints.

All minor aggravations that depend on whether you encounter them and in what mood. Dog poop is a good example. It’s not so bad from a distance, but considerably irritating in a flipflop. Potholes. Pens that won’t write. And any interactions with utility companies, cable TV, or telemarketers. It’s hard to avoid complaining about this stuff, and folks are bound to agree with you. The danger is that situational complaints are cumulative. A dripping sink and dead phone and a cat sharpening its claws on your leather recliner can add up to a melt-down at your in-laws.

Righteous Complaints.

This is the stuff we SHOULD complain about. Inequities in education and health care. Racial, religious, or gender inequalities. The abuse of the vulnerable – children, animals, the aged. The destruction of our environment. We should complain loudly – and constructively. Assemble, protest, vote.

Noxious Complaints.

These complaints are hurtful. Some in small ways – some more serious. But they hurt. They hurt others because they are almost always personal. And they hurt you because they can fill up your space with dissatisfaction. There will always be someone more successful than you, richer than you, more beautiful than you, luckier than you. Complaining about them makes you hate them for their good fortune and hate yourself for your shortcomings.

Maybe going a day without a complaint is an impossible goal. But I will try for a full month without a noxious complaint.

So far, so good. It’s 4:23 PM. Day One.

But the weather sucks.

Ranking

I am a ranker.

I love to put things in order. Not in my home… that is often order-free. In my mind.

I rank objects by how much I like them. What is my favorite color? How about my next-favorite? We have a set of coffee mugs – 6 mugs, each a different color – with white polka dots. My husband and I both love these mugs. But I have a ranking of which one I love most. I love the yellow, then the blue, then the green, then the purple, then the orange, and lastly, the red. Sometimes this changes slightly. Sometimes I love the green a bit more than the blue. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t love the red cup. I love them all. But in order.

I have an order to my lipsticks.

I have an order to my paintbrushes.

To my TV Shows. To Movies. To Music. To Books.

I don’t think of this as judgmental; I am not criticizing my lipsticks. They’re all quite wonderful. But my Marc Jacobs “Send Nudes” is the first wonderful lipstick. Ulta’s “Raspberry Beret” is the second wonderful.

I put my sweaters in my drawer by rank. And I am a bit more fickle with clothing, so I have to rearrange a lot.

I saw a meme recently that said you were an adult if you have a favorite burner on your stove. I thought, Of course! What kind of monster would not?

I play a lot of online Gin. And I have found that there are certain playing cards I like. I like nines. then fours. If I am collecting suits, by all means it is clubs. That doesn’t mean I won’t discard them, since I also like to win. But winning with my preferred cards feels especially good.

All of this meandering (and I have a ranking of words too… and I especially like ‘meandering’) is leading me to a concept that I have only recently accepted.

Ranking my loved ones.

Oh, this sounds cold, I know.

But honestly, didn’t you have a best friend when you were a kid? Maybe even now? Didn’t you have a favorite aunt?

And it doesn’t mean that you didn’t love your other aunties. I loved all my aunts – very much. But there was one.

When Speed-Dial was first introduced, my mother announced to us that she had put all her children’s numbers into the system. She ranked them, at first by age, but after a while, with her deliciously tart sense of humor, she began to rank us by other criteria. She moved us around. She delighted in telling us who was currently #1 and who had slipped.

This was just for her own amusement, but why not use this idea for a good purpose?

I have been contemplating my family and my friends. And consciously doing what my emotions have been doing all along – ranking them.

I love them all. My husband, my mother, my sisters and my brother, my cousins, my in-laws, all their little spawn, my friends, my clients.

But there is an order. A formal order which can change tomorrow. Or not.

I am sensitive enough not to reveal the order of human beings that I love. But I know it. It makes a difference to me. I am glad to know this about these loved ones.

And yes. I meant it when I said I do this for a good purpose.

Here is the purpose:

Now that I understand who is the first of my loved ones, which of them make up the top of the rankings, then my purpose becomes clear. These are the people I need to TELL. These are the ones I need to listen to. To spend time with. These are the people I need to shower with love.

And those who are still loved but who are further down in the my love rankings? Well, I have a goal for these souls too. To ask myself why they are less important to me and what I could do to either add to their significance or else worry about them less.

Sometimes, maybe often, the people who are most important to us can be taken for granted. We can become so comfortable and complacent – sure that the love is and will always be there.

But once you realize which people are the most important people in your life, you might actually treat them like the most important people in your life.

Learn who they are.

Merry Christmas & Merry Every Holiday!

Happy Holidays – all of them –

from the gang at

Not Quite Old

The Kitties – (Left to Right) Athena, Thor, Niko, and Lillian

The Doggies – Henry and Theo

And Moonlight, the Horse

And of course, from Nancy & Tom:

May your days be merry and bright!

I’m Still Here!

A few folks have written wondering about my disappearance.

Thank you, everyone, for worrying about me.

I’m fine.

I’m not giving up the blog.

I have just had a temporary career (perhaps ‘hobby’ is a better word) switch.

As I have shared with you before, I’ve been painting watercolor pet portraits for a year or so. And I sort of over-committed this Christmastime.

I just couldn’t bear to say no to anyone who was looking to give a gift of a portrait of a beloved pet.

So I said yes to everyone. Absolutely everyone.

And so I’ve been painting. And painting. And painting. Every single day.

Poor Theo and Henry and the cats are bored and have already alerted the SPCA of their horrid neglect. My husband has also called on whatever protection society cares for ignored spouses.

But I am just about finished. And considering there’s only a bit more than a week before Christmas, it’s a good thing I am about done.

I will write again after the holidays. I haven’t abandoned you at the side of the road with my family. Just sidelined for a few weeks.

I can prove my alibi:

Here’s just some of the portraits I have done. These are just from the past two weeks!

I have even done a HUMAN!

This is Nonna Maria, who is 108 years old. (and I did her twice, since the person who commissioned her wanted her portrait for two gifts.)

So forgive me, as I hope my family will eventually forgive me.

I’ll be back!!!

We Are Different

A few months ago, I wrote about my upcoming 50th high school reunion (Using And Losing Time).

I was anticipating the event with both pleasure and anxiety. I was looking forward to seeing old friends again. But I worried that I had not been as ‘successful’ as I would have wished. That I wasted too much of my life. I had frittered away my future.

And of course, I worried that I wouldn’t be pretty enough, thin enough, popular enough. OMG, (which no one said way back then, btw (which also no one said)) – my worries have not changed in HALF A CENTURY!

WTF (which also no one said)...is wrong with ME????

So anyway, I watched my diet sort of successfully, dropping about 8 of the 15 pounds I figured would make my figure perfect. So I was half perfect. I bought a gorgeous dress that was too dressy for the occasion, but how was I to know the party wouldn’t be like a senior prom for actual seniors? I rescheduled my hair appointment so my gray roots would not be poking through. I did a practice run of my makeup. I even intended to add some falsies of the eyelash variety, but in the end was more worried about having them detach and fall into my salad, so went with my own skimpy lashes.

I had daydreams of creating an Entrance. Of being the center of attention. Of being the fascinating extrovert I had failed to be in high school.

But of course, I am not an extrovert. I am a people watcher, not a people magnet. I think perhaps I could command an entourage if I had a basketful of Reese’s peanut butter cups. But it was two weeks before Halloween, so that was not an appropriate entrance.

Still, I did enjoy myself. Oh yes, I was overdressed, but I knew I looked nice, so I didn’t worry too much about it. I saw many old friends. And they were as sweet and loving as I remembered. Some classmates who were acquaintances but not friends back then were warm and sincerely (or pretended to be sincere) interested in me. If they were just pretending, then I thank them for their good manners anyway.

More than 130 of our 450 classmates attended. A good showing, I think, after the passage of fifty years. An indication that being teenagers together was a sweet experience that we could still share.

But sharing that experience has left me surprised too.

Surprised at our differences.

We were a homogeneous group. After all, we were all exactly the same age, attended the same school, raised in the same town, affected by the same world events. And our town itself was homogeneous. Smack-dab middle class – not many of us either rich or poor. Our homes, our streets, our families were all but interchangeable.

And yet, looking around that room that should have been filled with such similarity – I saw not uniformity, but amazing variety.

Some of us looked old. Some looked young. Some were fat and some were thin. Some were healthy and some disabled. There were bald heads and extravagant hair. Sequins and tee shirts. Successful entrepreneurs and folks who struggled. Long happy marriages, newlyweds, singles, long-divorced. Parents, grandparents, childlessness. Religious. Atheist. Liberal. Conservative. Living abroad. Still living in the same house. Haughty. Modest. Loud. Shy.

I was astonished by the diversity of people who should have been all alike.

Which makes me consider the bedlam of this world.

My classmates who shared such common experiences are not common. They aren’t clones. They are all unique.

So what of people who do not share such similarity of background?

If folks raised the same grow up to be so different, what chaos comes from a world where folks have such a disparity of experiences?

And optimist that I am, I see that it is not so much chaos after all.

Oh,I recognize that there is war and hatred and unrest and bitter disagreement. But I am profoundly impressed that we have even a teaspoon of stability in this world. Why – with such dissimilarity in this world – we have not descended into complete anarchy is a testament to the intelligence and goodness of human beings.

I am amazed that we can communicate with any level of understanding. That we can buy and sell in global transactions. That we can accomplish objectives in the workplace. That we can build a school and send our children to be educated. That we can bring food into big cities and the internet to the rainforest. That we can take care of strangers in hospitals. Hell, I am impressed that we can drive cars without smashing into each other.

It seems to me that Humanity is an insane collection of differences that we all overlook in order to survive.

And most of us even smile through the insanity.

Not only high school classmates – these are my elementary school classmates. Friends for fifty-eight years.

Choosy

Having high expectations can be a very good thing.

Mostly, because I have found that when you expect the best from people, they usually give it.

This is my best example. Our foyer.

The carpenter who laid this floor had never done anything like this before. We showed him a photograph from a lovely mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Newport. We wanted to recreate the gorgeous floor. We told him, “Study the photo. Think about how the parquet was done. You can figure it out. You can do it.”

And he did it.

And here’s an even simpler example:

Many years ago, when my nephews and niece were little, everyone was at my little condo for a party. My niece came into the living room to tattle on her brothers. “The boys are in the bedroom with the Legos and they are making a huge mess.” And I said, “That’s okay, because I know your brothers are also really good at cleaning up after they play.” My niece looked at me skeptically, but went back to the bedroom to tell her brothers what I said. After everyone had gone home, I walked into the bedroom. It was spotless.

So yes. I love having high expectations of people. I love to trust that folks will do the best the can. And I might be disappointed once in a while, but honestly – not that often.

But I also see that high expectations – especially for things (not people) – can get in the way of your enjoyment of the simple things.

I am the leader of a book club.

I started the book club after I retired in order to discover new friends and new ideas. The book club has been going strong for eighteen months now. And I have made some wonderful new friends. And read some wonderful books in the process.

But oh my, once in a while we have a clunker.

We are trying now to add some criteria to better ensure that our book selections will be good ones. Because sometimes we have let someone choose a book just because they haven’t selected yet, and it’s nice to give everyone a turn. And sometimes they pick a book out of the blue that they know nothing about, but they think we all might like it. But we don’t.

It’s what happens then that is interesting.

Some people – for the best of reasons – they want to enrich their lives reading great books – are tremendously disappointed by a mediocre (or worse) book. The comments tend to be along the lines of

  • “I can’t attend the meeting because I have nothing good to say.”
  • “I’ll never get those hours back.”
  • “What a waste of money.”
  • “Don’t ever let that person choose again.”
  • “I’ve read 20 pages and I’m stopping right there.”

I always feel really bad when that happens. Sometimes I dislike the book myself. But I can still discuss it. Civilly. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself and so there is always an underlying empathy for the author who spent months and years putting the story together. When writers critique other writers, we try very hard to pick out something good about the writing and make sure we emphasize it, in addition to pointing out what may not be successful.

And as far as “a waste of time” goes – well, yes. I would rather spend my time reading something that thrills me. But if you have ever watched television or played a computer game or gone for a drive on a Sunday afternoon or even listened to a five-year-old tell a very long story – well, just don’t talk to me about how your hours are too precious. We all waste a hell of a lot of time. Reading anything does not qualify as a waste.

I once witnessed someone (forgive me because I am pretty sure I have told this story before) pick up a book from a friend’s kitchen table and say, “Who is reading this trashy novel?” I was mortified. Not for the person whose book is was but for the rudeness of the person’s comment. It’s a book! It’s reading! That’s ALWAYS a good thing! Nancy Drew leads to Jane Eyre and Jane Eyre leads to Jane Austen and Jane Austen leads to … anywhere!

Now I agree that life is too short to spend time reading a book you don’t like. There are just too many good books out there to read a poor one. But although I may not always finish a mediocre book, I will always start a book with high expectations and give it a chance. Who knows? It may surprise or please or teach you.

Last month our book club had a rather unfortunate choice. At the prior meetings, no one was forthcoming with suggestions but one very nice woman brought up a novel that was set in a time period that interested her. So we went with it.

It was not the worst book I ever read – but it was far from the best. It was ordinary in every way. The heroine was perfect. The hero was perfect. The plot and the writing were not perfect. And the ending was predictable.

But the time period – World War II – was interesting, with an original point of view.

Many of these very smart and nice women in the book club, moaned and groaned about the assigned book. Some complained to me privately in emails, some just said “uggh” when the time came during our very good luncheon to discuss the not-so-good novel.

There is one woman in our book club – she is brilliant and well-read and soft spoken.

She said, “World War II was a fascinating time for everyone, and especially for women, who took on responsibilities previously denied them. I brought a few excerpts from a little memoir my mother wrote. She was in the military during the war.”

And she shared with us the captivating and strong and sweet reminiscences of her incredible mother.

Which we would not have known existed if we hadn’t been unfortunate enough to choose that lousy book.

Which is pretty fortunate after all.

What If You Fail?

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

This saying was popularized back in the 70s and is mainly attributed to Robert Schuller, a televanglist I didn’t much like. But I did like this axiom. And it came into prominence again in this decade as the result of a terrific TED talk by Regina Dugan.

Several years ago, I found the quote on a paperweight, and I bought it as a gift for my husband. My husband is a super capable guy, and I have never seen him fail at anything. But he’s cautious. He worries about trying things. He worries that he won’t be able to figure out new problems. He sometimes will not try stuff because he thinks he won’t be good at it. He doesn’t want to look foolish. He worries about failure.

I am familiar with these worries. Not only because I have lived with him for so many years. But because I share some of those same worries.

But somewhere in me, I have a intrinsic confidence that I can eventually handle whatever I need to. My husband has always handled what comes at him too. With as much or more success than I have had. But he doesn’t really believe it.

So I gave him the paperweight. I thought it might inspire him. Instill confidence.

A paperweight? Instilling confidence?

Great expectations from 3 inches of pewter. Yeah, that was a little naive.

But still – when you see or hear something everyday, sometimes it eventually imbeds itself into your brain.

And my husband has tried a few new things. He started horseback riding at age 71. At 73, he bought his own horse. That’s courage. (not pewter) He’s a cautious rider. But he rides.

As we get older, instead of being more cautious, some of us actually get a little braver. Maybe we say, “What the hell?” Maybe we want to fill our boring ebbing days with a bit more excitement. Maybe we have less to lose? Or maybe our dwindling fear comes from dwindling brain cells.

And as I get older, another question emerges that is as interesting to me as “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

It’s this:

What would you attempt to do EVEN if you would probably fail?

What do you want to do so badly, you don’t care about the outcome? If you don’t care if you fail, if you look foolish, if you’re laughed at or pitied….or even if (gasp) it costs you money?

I like to post on Twitter in the guise of my dog. It lets me say stuff I might be embarrassed to say as me. Yeah, that’s dumb. I have a sneaky feeling most people know it’s me. It’s a foolish conceit, but I don’t mind looking foolish. I don’t mind being a silly old lady who pretends my dog has a philosophical bent.

And just this week, Theo wrote:

I think if you only like what you’re good at, you won’t be doing much of anything, because you won’t try anything. You have to be bad at something first before you get good. You don’t play a concerto the first time you sit down at the piano. Everyone knows that. But the trick is to like the piano even when you are awful.

But what if you never get good?

I have been practicing Yoga for 18 years now. I am in the beginner class. If I am fortunate enough to still be taking Yoga classes 18 years from now, I am fairly certain I will still be in the beginner class. I think they call it a “practice” for a reason. There is no Yoga recital – just practice. I am terrible. I like it anyway.

Perhaps the key to being brave is the inability to be embarrassed.

My mother’s very best advice to me was: “You can do everything! You won’t be good at everything. But you can do everything.”

I’ve learned that failure isn’t so bad. It’s an outcome that’s not only possible, but probable. It’s survivable. You just need to stop caring whether you look foolish. Enjoy the experience, even if the ending is terrible. And, once in while, after you do something badly for a very long time, you may find that you start doing it pretty well. Then very well.

It’s rare. But it’s awesome. It’s worth it.

What do you want to do passionately enough that you don’t care if you fail?