The Wager

28 01 2011

Failure is never an option, but it’s always a possibility. Especially when you’re trying to break out, to try something new or different, to offer a view or style unproven; to put forth the unconventional. Which is the bigger risk: people reacting negatively to your work, or never doing the work at all?

I met Myrlie Evers today, civil rights leader, first full-time chairman of the NAACP, honorary PhD at, like, ten universities, AMAZING woman, and an amazing speaker. Lucky me, my job is listening to people and making sure they sound good on tape. Her voice, part lecture, part testimony; her diction, erudite and mesmerizing; the stories were entwined with wisdom, struggle, and conviction. My mind swam with disbelief at being in the same room with someone who played such an important role in how the world is today.

On June 12, 1963, her husband Medgar Evers, was shot in the back in their driveway as he returned home. For over a decade the two had fought for civil rights, and with her husband now fallen, Myrlie continued to raise the flag on her own. Many, even from within the NAACP, told her that Medgar would be responsible for any of her future accomplishments. Her response: “Just watch and see what I can do.” If she had been afraid of failure, or of unwaveringly adhering to her conviction, we all would have lost out, and I wouldn’t have met her today.

By comparison, artistic struggles do not seem nearly as serious, as life or death, as those our civil right heroes were faced with, but the challenges may take to mountains in much the same way. And for those making their living by following the dream, it really is a creative life versus a soul-sucking occupation. If for an instant you let someone else determine your direction, diminish your contribution, or otherwise take control of your destiny, you are giving up the fight.