Remember to Take Your Shot

There’s a scene I like in Rocky where the bartender criticizes a guy on TV and Rocky calls him out on it. The scene goes something like this:

[TV shows heavyweight champion Apollo Creed being interviewed. Apollo encourages kids to stay in school: “Use your brain. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, carry a leather briefcase. Forget about sports as a profession. Sports make ya grunt and smell. See, be a thinker, not a stinker.”]

Bartender: Will you take a look at that guy? I mean, where are the real fighters gonna come from — the pros? All you got today are clowns.
Rocky: Clown?
Bartender: That’s right, clown.
Rocky: You callin’ Apollo Creed a clown?
Bartender: Well, what else? Look at him.
Rocky: Are you crazy? This man is champion of the world. He took his best shot and became the champ. What shot did you ever take?

The bartender says something about how Rocky’s unhappy with his life, and then Rocky gets fed up and leaves.

What I like about this scene is the disconnect between their mindsets. Rocky acknowledges and respects Apollo’s accomplishments. Rocky understands that to become champion, Apollo needed to take charge of his life and take some hard risks. The bartender, on the other hand, is a typical hater.

I think that on some level, the world is divided into two camps. People who take charge of their life, and people who think that’s just too hard. This quick interaction between Rocky and the bartender demonstrates both camps really well.

For most of my life, I was in the second camp. I imagined that I needed to settle for what was put in front of me, and that the interesting and exciting lives were reserved for other people. I was sleepwalking through life, doing this and that, but never really enjoying myself.

I made a conscious decision to change all that, and started taking more risks. This past year, though, I realized that I was falling on old habits. I found myself working in a dead-end job that made me unhappy, and doing little to change my situation.

During one of my lunch breaks I was reading an article about creative writing schools. I found myself remembering what I had set out to accomplish in life, and yearning to be surrounded by fellow writers while immersing myself in their stories. I regretted the fact that I was suddenly aware of how I was clearly wasting my days away at a job I didn’t enjoy, and how it was distracting me from the writing life that I wanted. I kept reading.

The article described the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa as the most renowned in the country. It mentioned how competitive the workshop was, and how the number of people accepted into the program was a relatively small number.

It seemed like a long shot. It seemed hard. It seemed like something that would not happen for me, and was clearly reserved for other people. In spite of all of these initial thoughts, I imagined what a privilege it would be if I’d get to participate.

I have realistic expectations. I applied to a backup school in case my first choice for an MFA creative writing program doesn’t work out for me — but I did apply.

I’m taking a shot. It might work out, and it might not. If it doesn’t, then I’ll have to take another shot after that.

Too many people never take their shot. They don’t take a shot at happiness, at their dreams, or at life. Maybe they’re afraid of failing, or being told “no.” Maybe they think they don’t deserve the life they want, or that they’re comfortable where they are, or that they need to focus on something else for now.

Sometimes we have legitimate excuses for biding our time. More frequently, though, they’re just excuses. We make things up to justify our current existence.

A few weeks before Christmas, I finished the bulk of my application to the schools. It was 60 pages thick and made me smile. I collected everything that needed to be sent away using a checklist, and I dropped everything into the mail with my fingers crossed.

It’s a gamble for a chance at a life that I may never see. But I’m trying my best to reach out for opportunities that aren’t right in front of me.

I may never be champion of the world at anything. Still, I’m taking my shots on my own terms. It feels good.

If you’re unsure of what to do with this year, try taking a shot at the life you’ve always dreamed of. That way, if they’re successful, you can look back with pride knowing they were responsible for the life that you’re living. And even if they’re not, then at least you took charge of your life, and took some hard risks.

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4 Responses to “Remember to Take Your Shot”

#1 Paul on 06, Jan, 2012 at 2:03 pm

That sounds nice if you actually have a dream. But what if you don’t but wish you did? It tires me to read about people who have realized a dream or are trying to achieve one. Good for you. Don’t assume everyone has one. I’m still thinking and searching…

#2 Carissa Starr on 06, Jan, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I always find inspiration and motivation in your words Shaun. Many people only look to those who have “Done it” and “Lived the dream”. I find more inspiration in others who are still fighting for theirs. I have a tendency to fall into the Bartender’s club. It is something I fight with regularly. I turned 35 last month and I fell into that “what have I done with my life?” depression all too common. Climbing my way out and this is a great help. Maybe I haven’t achieved what I wanted to yet, but I will if I take control. Simple common sense…but so easily forgotten.

And Paul, not ‘having a dream’ doesn’t mean you can’t take chances. In fact I think it demands more risks. I have friends who say the same but will turn down a job that sounds interesting because they are afraid they won’t like it. That’s a risk to take. You might not, but it might turn out to be that passion you were searching for. Society tells us we can’t have a wide reach of interests, that we have to hone in and focus. I think that’s bullsh*t. Stretch your arms and don’t just sit back letting the formulaic trappings of life dictate who you are. That in itself is a risk. All any dream really is in the end, is self realization. All dreams are the freedom to be who you want to be, so in truth, we’re all looking for the same thing. <3

#3 Michele on 09, Jan, 2012 at 8:39 am

Absolutely brilliant and inspirational. I am in a similar situation and branching out now as well, waiting for that Next Great Thing to come my way. But rather than sitting back and waiting for it to arrive at my doorstop, I’m pushing and moving forward, finding my niche. Thank you for a wonderfully written blog and best of luck to you.

#4 Gair on 11, Jan, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Shaun, you may find Jon Katz’s blog interesting and this post in particular.

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