The Attempt Is All

Several years ago, a small, drive-through only coffee and ice cream cone shop opened in my neighborhood. It was just before drive-through windows were common for places like Starbucks and Caribou. Coffee for the parents and ice cream for the kids (and parents)? Easy drive-through service for both? It seemed like it would have a lot of potential for success.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long.

A year or two after it closed, I was out of town with my kiddos and we stopped at a Dairy Queen for lunch. An older couple sat near us and we struck up a conversation. As small world situations would have it, it came out that it was their son-in-law who had opened a coffee shop in my neighborhood.

“Oh! That one across from ––, on the corner, and was drive-through only for coffee and ice cream?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” she replied.

“I was sorry to see it close. It had a lot of potential,” I said.

“My son-in-law had received an inheritance,” she said, her tone not yet quite readable, “and he put it all into that shop. He said he’d always wanted to own his own business.”

If you know me at all, you might anticipate my reaction. “Wow, that’s a total shame that it didn’t work out, but so great that he gave it a go!”

And then I discovered that was the wrong response. WHOOPS.

“All of the inheritance. They have two young children and my daughter stays home with the children. They don’t have very much money.”

But, you know, in for a dime, in for a dollar. I invested. “He has a job now?”

“Yes.” By now she’s not exactly glaring at me, but there’s definitely disapproval.

“That’s good,” I forge right on ahead. “I mean, it’s a scary risk to put so much time and money into an unknown business, but how great to have had the opportunity to follow that dream so early!”

She didn’t, um,  agree.

In my defense, I really think the mother was simply feeling protective of her daughter (totally understandable) and I also don’t think they were bordering on being truly poor. Let’s just say we transitioned away from that topic after it clearly wasn’t going the way either of us thought. Heh.

It is being said in a lot of places right now that “follow your dreams” is not really the best advice to give young people anymore and I get what those people are saying. We can’t all be famous or make the most money or get the very best job right out of school. Most will never have that. But I don’t ever want us to ditch the idea altogether. The core of “follow your dreams” can be more like “keep your dreams, but also be pragmatic”, right?

Without our dreams, we lose our hope and our passions. Without our dreams, the whole “growth mindset” movement fizzles out. Without our dreams, we lose innovation, invention, advancement, and great art.

A friend of mine posted the following in our writers’ group this past week:

“Writers, stop what you’re doing and go to Netflix and watch Off Camera, season 3, episode 2 with Ethan Hawke. Even if it’s just the first ten minutes of it. I guarantee you will enter your weekend more confident and more determined to write your book.”

Naturally, I followed her directive. Hawke talks of mixing his acting fame with his first time writing a novel. He faced a lot of criticism and mockery, but you know, he just kept at it. And one of the things he said during the interview was “The attempt is all.” He hadn’t expected to face such ridicule for following a passion – a dream – of writing a novel, but didn’t let it stop him, in spite of it.

I’ve had my fair share of dreams that seem to circle on down the drain. But at age 46, I still hang on to them. I don’t regret any of my choices to do different things that were more practical. Things that fortunately, were still within my wide range of interests, even if I was never The Best at those things. I’ve received rejection after rejection after rejection, and yet, The Dream – the one about being published – still exists. The journey towards that dream is important.

Oldest Child graduated last night, and I think to what is in their future. They have a big music audition in November and their plans for this next year kind of hinges on being successful with that audition. It’s a risk. But it’s also a dream that they can’t – or at least shouldn’t – pass up right now. Should it not pan out… The Dream, perhaps in a slightly different form, should still exist.

Middle Child has taken to heart my advice to him at the beginning of the year: you get out what you put in. This has not always equaled getting what he wanted out of it all, but each ounce of effort has led to growth and effort towards dreams. The Dreams still exist.

When we keep our dreams alive, we look at failure as obstacles, not barriers. Sure, maybe the “follow your dreams” is folly when paired with nothing else. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still KEEP our dreams because the journey surrounding those dreams teaches us so much.

The attempt is all. No regrets.

Do you remember “Mr. Holland’s Opus”? I love the duo-reference of the word “opus” and what a great example of keeping a dream and seeing it come to fruition in ways not expected.

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2 Responses to The Attempt Is All

  1. Andy Rundquist says:

    This reminds me of a couple of things: I interact with newly admitted students at the college I work at a lot. I’ve taken to talking to them about the differences between “figuring out what they’re passionate about” and “figuring out the problems they enjoy solving.” The passion part sometimes gets them pursuing a field of study that has work involved in it that they don’t enjoy. They’re passionate about the potential end product, but don’t find the work itself fulfilling. So instead I ask them what they’ve stayed up late working on in their lives when they didn’t even notice the time. I encourage them not just to tell me about things they’re good at doing, with my pat answer of “we’ll help you get good at it.” But a part of me makes me nervous about this approach, and your post articulates it a little for me. We/they have to dream and be passionate about things. It seems what I’m doing is trying to ground my students’ dreams so that they really understand what’s involved.

    The second thing this makes me think of is a recent address I gave to graduating seniors, again at the college where I work. It was for a Baccalaureate ceremony and they asked me for an inspiring quote to put in the program. I joked that something Bill Nye once said really inspired me: “Safety first . . . no . . . Safety early!” They actually loved it and ran with it, encouraging me to focus my thoughts on passion and prudence. I gave my speech the title of “leap and look”. That seems a lot closer to what you’re saying here. What was interesting is that while a lot of people thought it was a good way to frame advice for graduating seniors, a few clearly preferred the tried-and-true “Look and Leap” approach.


  2. Ann Bremer says:

    Great post! And great comment by Andy. I keep telling my kids to do something they’d do for free. Similar to what Andy said above about finding the thing they spend time doing without noticing the passage of time. Thanks for the reminder to watch the Ethan Hawke episode. Very inspiring.


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