I read a passage from Charles Bukowski’s Factotum a few weeks ago that made me laugh. Then, when I finished laughing, I wrote it down, cut it out, and taped it to my wall. “If you’re going to try, go all the way,” it reads, “Otherwise don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail.” While I certainly have no intention of freezing on a park bench, going to jail, or, worse, not eating for several days, something about this quote—the first line, in particular—struck me.
For most of my life, I’ve put a fair amount of effort into avoiding mistakes. From big ones (should I move across the country?) to small ones (is that comma in the right place?), I’m something of an over-thinker. Sometimes it’s a tendency that serves me well. Other times, I worry so much about the potential consequences of an action or decision that I err on the side of caution - or don’t end up doing anything at all.
My blog is a good example. For two full years, I mulled over the idea of starting it. Part of me couldn’t wait; the other part was full of trepidation. Would anyone read it? What if people didn’t like it, or me? Was I brave enough to make certain aspects of my life—however small—public?
At long last, on a hot summer day in the backyard of my favorite Brooklyn coffee shop, I wrote my first post. Again, this was two years after I’d first had the idea to start a blog. A lot of thought had gone into it, but still, I felt completely unready. It wasn’t perfect. I was setting myself up for a whole lot of mistakes, or so I thought. But the fact was, worrying about this had gotten me nowhere.
When I pressed “publish” on that post, my heart leapt. I thought I might faint. Nine months later, I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not pressed that button. The blog is far from perfect, and, honestly, I’m still more or less figuring it out as I go. But the process has been so rewarding, there’s no way it’s not worth the effort that goes into it. It’s brought so many wonderful and talented people into my life. Creatively, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
From time to time, I remind myself of this whenever I feel hesitant about taking a risk. The nagging voice is still there: What if I fail? What if this is a huge mistake? My feeling, though, is that at this age—or any age, for that matter—very few decisions can be considered a mistake. Everything’s a learning experience. The bumps along the way are challenging, but challenges mean growth. Challenges mean experimentation. Challenges open doors.
Without a doubt, I’m often still guilty of choosing safety over risk. But I’m trying to remember to take chances—and not only that, “to go all the way,” as Bukowski writes. I want to look back at this time in my life and be proud of the things I did. I doubt I’ll even remember all of the countless things I worried about.
By the way, the Bukowski passage continues for a few more lines before spiraling into raving hyperbole. Somewhere in the middle, though, he repeats that first line—“If you’re going to try, go all the way.” Then, he writes, “There is no other feeling like that.”
I’m just beginning to find that’s true.