I remember sneaking into the living room late at night when the rest of my family was tucked away in their bedrooms. I would turn on the tv and search for scary movies as an act of both curiosity and rebellion. I distinctly remember catching a glimpse of William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic, “The Exorcist.” I stumbled onto the film right at the moment when Linda Blair’s head spins around and spits profanity at the priest. I was paralyzed with terror. I could not scream, I could not run for fear she would jump through the screen and grab me. I was too afraid to even try.
Oddly enough, I grew into an adult who loves horror films. They don’t frighten me like they use to, in fact I believe they steadied my hand a bit and taught me to ask what is really worth fearing and what is not. Now, that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned you should never walk towards the unusual sounds coming from your basement, nor do you keep your high heels on when running from monsters. But my relationship with fear was shaped in a strange way by watching those scary movies. When I feel frightened, I ask myself three questions: Is that monster real? If yes, what do I stand to lose and/or to gain if I do face this monster? And lastly, is what I really want on the other side of this thing? If I freeze, I surely get eaten by Linda Blair (figuratively speaking). If I run, I have the best chance of survival, but I leave her to run amuck. And if I challenge her, if I take the risk, I might save my whole family who sleeps unknowingly at her mercy when she crawls out of the television.
For most of us in our everyday life, our biggest Linda Blair is failure. We avoid taking the first step because we cannot bear to lose. But the more I look, listen and observe the world around me, the more I wonder how many of us cower not at the thought of failing initially, but at the possibility of succeeding, and the responsibility that comes with pursuing our goals.
I’ve divided all possible outcomes into two categories, I call them “the big fat no” and “the terrifying yes”.
The big, fat “no” is like being stepped on by an elephant. It falls on someone heavily and generally leaves them in a flattened, fetal position. It is usually followed by comforting television, permission to wear pajamas to any and all functions and activities, and a magical relationship with junk food. It gives us permission to lay down, to disconnect and to submit.
But then there’s the terrifying “yes”. This fella is a whole other animal because it has no interest in giving you a break. “Yes” means work. “Yes” means “You’re getting your shot, sink or swim”. “Yes” doesn’t have time to watch Dr. Who (somewhat sadly), nor does it have time to eat an entire gallon of ice cream (though maybe a pint). And “yes” leads to expectations of you in the foreseeable future.
And you see, I believe what we really fear is the biggest of the big “nos” which is the one that could possibly follow “yes”. Because if you never try, the big fat “no” remains a mystery. The possible remains possible if never revealed to be otherwise. But the “no” that follows the “yes” is the biggest “no” of them all. If you have your chance and you lose, the strength of character it takes to demand a second chance is what heroes are made of. The come back takes the greatest guts of all and that is when failure becomes fuel, defining what it is that you truly want.
Prodigies are a rarity, and a prodigy’s audience is usually temperamental. The pedestal is high for the instantly gifted, and being human, prodigies trip sometimes. I, personally, love the underdogs. Keep your Hercules, I’ll take a lanky scraper to fight my demons. That fighter has scars and knows how to get back up! The underdog learns how to walk the fine line between extraordinary and fallible, and you see them dig their claws in at every turn, determined to maintain their faith and their vision. Underdogs are forced to understand their craft and mission more with every passing day, to conquer their fears with every failure while nurturing their gratitude with each success. Mastering both the thick and thin is what makes a master of a craft.
Finding the strength to get up and turn off the television while proclaiming, “From whence you came, Linda Blair” may still result in Exorcist themed nightmares, but in them you’ll know you have the courage to stand a chance.
On the other side of the biggest “no” is the most fulfilling of “yes”. It is the “yes” that knows what is possible in the face of defeat.
Quote from “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman