Living & Growing: Stumbling toward success

I’m enjoying the trying, and that’s success to me.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill

As you read this we are over a month into the new year. By this time, many of us have said good-bye to the resolutions we set at the start of the year, having failed to follow through with them. Does that make us failures? Consider this: Steven Spielberg was rejected twice by USC School of Cinematic Arts. A newspaper editor for whom he worked told Walt Disney before firing him that “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Elvis Presley was never invited back to the Grand Ole Opry after a dismal first performance. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school varsity basketball team. Each of these people initially failed at something important to them, but I would imagine most of us would not deem them failures.

Moses, the most important prophet in Judaism failed repeatedly while struggling to free his people. His first appearance before Pharaoh was nothing short of a disaster when Pharaoh not only refused to let the Israelites go, but demanded that the people now gather their own straw for brick making, with no reduction in quota. Time after time when Moses returned to Pharaoh with the intention of getting his people released from bondage, his efforts failed. Turning his staff into a snake was deemed a common magician’s trick by the Egyptians who mocked his effort. Waters running red as blood, infestations of frogs, lice and flies, livestock death and boils were all dismissed as naturally occurring phenomena that inconveniently happened in a short span of time. Finally, with the most terrible of plagues, the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh relents and the Israelites leave Egypt. Moses’s problems, and failures, don’t end however. As he leads the people to the Promised Land they repeatedly dismiss what he tells them, going so far as to worship a golden idol which evokes the wrath of God. Moses was tested and failed repeatedly as he struggled to release his people from bondage and deliver them to the Promised Land, but he remained steadfast on achieving his goal. Through perseverance, persistence, and faith, he eventually succeeded. Through all the defeats, delays, and disappointments, he kept going.

My grandfather, whom I revered, was a music man. He could play just about every instrument he was handed, but his favorite was the banjo. He was known as Sam the Banjo Man in the vaudeville circuit. All my life I have wanted to learn to play the banjo and last year I finally took the plunge. I ordered a banjo and signed up for an online course. When the banjo arrived I was astounded by how beautiful it was, marveled at the weight of it in my hands. I carefully placed it in it’s case, secured it safely in my office, and left it there. I had previewed some of the instruction videos and they seemed hard, all so foreign to me who had never before played a stringed instrument. I was afraid to try for fear of failing. Thank goodness for Jewish guilt in this case as I began to feel guilty for ignoring my beautiful banjo, for disappointing the memory of my grandfather. I decided to allow myself the grace to fail. To know that I was going to be absolutely wretched at the start, but through persistence and perseverance I would get better. I had to get better, there was no way but up.

I ran into an acquaintance, an expert banjo player who upon hearing I was learning to play told me I had to practice each lesson 1,000 times before I would be proficient. Instead of being daunting, this reassured me. Once again the value of persistence and perseverance were emphasized as a means to success.

So, what about those New Year’s resolutions? Are they something you really want to accomplish, something important to you? If so, give them another try. And if you stumble, try again. As for me, I spend a little time each day with my banjo. My playing still sends the dogs scurrying from the room, but I’m enjoying the trying, and that’s success to me.

• Patricia Turner Custard is a member of Congregation Sukkat Shalom. ”Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.

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