My hand is numb in the snow as the July heat pours down on me. Mount Rainier towers in the distance, with its snowy, glacial top rising out of the sweltering foothills, the same foothills in which I am now stuck. Any other person would have been sweating profusely by now, but my mind is elsewhere. I look, frozen, down the slope filled with melon-sized rocks, emptying into a funnel that leads to a forty foot drop. The rocks fall one after another down the cliff, exactly where I would be if I made one mistake, if I slipped and fell.
I can still count the trees leading along the ridge, pointing to the drop, three years later. But this fear was different. It taught me something. It taught me that no matter what, you should always try. I stood in indecision for five minutes before the scree field – the funnel filled with the rocks – before I even attempted to cross. Thousands of excuses crossed my mind on why I shouldn’t do it, why I should stay safe on that side of the field. But I tried it anyway, and even though I had to turn around, I’m proud that I tried.
I believe that you’ve got to try, because if you don’t then you’ll never know what you missed out on.
True, I didn’t get the satisfaction of getting across. It forced me to spend the day sitting at the trail junction with my mom as my dad and my brother charged ahead. But I’m okay with that. Because I tried, now I know what I am up against. And maybe I’m not ready for scree fields or obscenely high cliffs now, but in a few years who knows what I’ll be doing. Maybe I’ll even climb Mount Rainier someday, just like my dad. But for now I’m happy with what I did.
It’s strange that this is the one incident that brought my values to the surface, the one incident that taught me what I believe in, that it was failure that showed me the way and not success. But, perhaps, that is a part of it too – that it doesn’t matter if you succeed, just that you put your heart into it.
When I was four or five and I got my first bedroom all to myself, I inherited my dad’s old dresser from his childhood. The dresser itself was fine, functional. But what captivated me was an old, yellowing newspaper clipping of a poem that he had taped long ago to the corner of the mirror. It was an inspirational poem, copied from a 1981 Wall Street Journal ad. If I had to pick a set of morals to live by, they would be found in that poem. The last two sentences in particular sum it all up for me:
Don’t worry about
Worry about the
chances you miss
when you don’t
It shouldn’t matter if I didn’t win that competition, didn’t make an edible dinner, or didn’t make it across that scree field. All that matters is that I tried, because if you never try, you never know.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.