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.
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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