#januwordy: Ascending to failure

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The further we went, the more anxious I became. We had been hiking up for this mountain face a while, the pace slowing as the incline became steeper. We began to occasionally find trickles of water creating icy rocks, here in the shadow of the peak almost a mile and a half above sea level.

When we’d made the decision to start up the slope, our goal had been to reach the pass so we could get a view of the other side. But as we got nearer the top, the slower our progress. Fellow trail users who’d been here before would proclaim, “This is the worst of it. Not far now!” Yet another section would come, even steeper or more technical or coated in water, liquid or ice. And still the peak loomed above us.

Eventually we decided that, as the saying goes, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” We were already exhausted. Though we could see the top, we couldn’t see the end. And we still had to retrace our steps before darkness fell. So we turned back without reaching the pass. We had “failed”.

It wasn’t all for naught though. We had managed to ascend far enough to be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the lake and mountains below.

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We set our sights on pinnacles. There are promises—spoken and unspoken—of renumeration, perhaps power and influence, awe. But if we’re honest with ourselves, how much of the draw is in the challenge itself? In being able to say, “I did this,” and knowing that some small number of people (relatively speaking) have been here?

In youth (and even later, maybe even our lifetime), we tend to focus on completion. It is, of course, a critical component of being… done and accomplishing something in this world.

At some point though, we will fall short of the target we set ourselves. We willingly take on, what is at least for ourselves, an audacious goal and find that we just don’t have what we need to see it through to its finish.

At least not today.

But the attempt is not fruitless. At least it doesn’t have to be. We learn something when we fail. We take away a better understanding of what we need to finish so that, maybe, we can come back and try it again. We discover what our limits are at this point and in this part of our lives. We grow strength, knowledge, and skills from the effort itself, which will serve us in what we do tomorrow or next month or even in years to come—if we choose to build on the gains of today.


If you like the photos in this week’s posts and/or are interested in topics like running, trails in the Pacific Northwest, or a couple deciding to take on an ultramarathon, check out the other blog I contribute to: Boundary Conditions.

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#januwordy: The disappointment of secrets

There is a massive, lucrative market in selling secrets.

Not the espionage sort, or at least I can’t speak to the scale of that market. No, I mean the secrets to… take your pick: professional success, a better body, finding your soulmate, running faster (or further), making friends, being the life of the party, retiring at 40, working on your passion, having it all. (I refrained from adding “air” quotes because I quickly realized they’d be littered across the list.)

There is an incredible demand for the secrets of life, of personal betterment. The evidence is on shelves of bookstores, scattered across Self-Help, Fitness, Business, and other categories. In pages of the magazines by the supermarket register and touted on their covers. In article titles that flit by on Twitter. In questions that are asked at nearly every career forum/panel.

We long, even at times are desperate for, those secrets (or by other names: cheat codes, formulas, lifehacks). At some point, though, if we are lucky have been paying attention, we realize there are no infallible codes to finding or achieving what we seek. We come to understand that those success stories that sell are a product of particular set of circumstances—personality, privilege, opportunity, skills, environment, context, and even a bit of luck.

There is no one-size-fits-all, or even one-size-fits-most, solution. That’s not to say that we can’t learn something from others’ stories. In some cases, it might be a lesson, an idea, or an inspiration that we bring to bear on our own scenario. In other cases, it could be the opposite: We see what the “secret way” cost someone (financially or otherwise) or see that there’s no way it would work for us and decide that we are going to find another way.

There are almost surefire ways to fail. It’s incredibly rare that someone who never runs can just go out and run a marathon. People don’t make friends by never engaging with anyone. Finding our to “success” (however we might define that) can take many forms. But when we see others “failing” or struggling, it doesn’t mean they’re not trying; many encounter systemic barriers or don’t have certain types of privilege. Just as there are often overlooked contributors to success, so too the obstacles can be invisible, especially to those of us looking in from the outside. What if we strived to understand those secrets too?

Each of us is a product of many elements. Life is full of trial and error. We may glean some strategies to try from others, but ultimately we won’t find our way through using a formula that someone is all too eager to sell us.

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#januwordy: Day 2

Whether a new year, a new job, a new project, Day 1 is exciting, anticipatory, hopeful. You have plans and goals. There’s also uncertainty, but on Day 1, that uncertainty is exhilarating. Success is not a foregone conclusion, and it’s not clear how you’ll get there if you make it. But the uncertainty is filled with the promise of what could be, dreams of What if it works?

Jeff Bezos has talked about maintaining “Day 1” mentality at Amazon. Day 1 means always acting like the company is a startup. The interpretation many take away is that Day 1 is keeping innovation and creativity. Bezos went on to say that “‘Day 2’ is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.”

But Day 2 is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the collision of dreams with reality. It’s the start of getting down to business, the big issues and the minutiae about what this project is going to take. It’s learning just how much you don’t know. It’s confronting the magnitude of the plan and taking the next step, which seems so far removed from the end goal. It’s putting together task lists, timetables, budgets, sub-aims. It’s lacing up your shoes and heading for that workout even though it’s dark and cold and you’re tired and you’d rather lounge. It’s realizing you have a lot to learn for your new job, and you’re sort of on your own for it, and finding a way to push through that and find your way to get things done. It’s opening up a writing prompts page and not connecting with them but deciding to write anyway.*

At times, Day 2 will be tedious and frustrating. Keeping some Day 1 enthusiasm, remembering why you’re doing this can help you push through. Day 2 will demand some creativity and innovation of its own. Day 2 isn’t stasis or irrelevance or decline or death. Day 2 is when you begin to face uncertainty and turn the glowing ideas of Day 1 into something real.


A writing itch returned, and I’m trying to write through Januwordy. I had impressions about today’s prompts, but nothing that I wanted to write. So I started writing this post, and within a minute had already pulled in the prompt for today, “uncertainty”.

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#januwordy: Cascade

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I have spent a bit of time this year on mountain trails. Water travels from one place to another, sometimes with grace and timidity, sometimes with noise and power. It takes the plunge off cliffs. It rolls gently down mountain faces.

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When it rains, which it does quite often here, the water travels in more places. It drenches the path worn by the feet of humans and other animals. It flows as it does anywhere else it collects.

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The traverse of water is not direct, at least not in the way humans tend to think. It does not cut the shortest path between two points. It meanders. It moves where gravity and momentum pull and push it.

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When it encounters a barrier, water sometimes finds another path around and continues its journey forward. Other times, it comes to a halt and must wait until it has built up enough to flow over the barrier. And at yet other times, it is carried with sufficient force—the strength and momentum it has gained—that the water powers over or under the obstacle in its way.

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The traverse of water is not direct, but it is efficient and effective. When the rain has stopped, the source has gone dry, or the flow has changed paths, the signs of the waters prior presence remains.

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Reflecting

As you read posts scattered around all corners of the internet, it seems inevitable that this time of year brings time in reflection. And here I find myself putting words of similar nature to a (web)page, though much has been kicking around in my head for a while.

Posting to this blog has been… sporadic (at best) for a few years now. There are reasons (there always are, and sometimes quite good ones). I admire folks like Doctor Zen who have maintained consistency over the years. My best intentions are never quite realized. I’m a slow writer, and there are so many things that draw time and attention.

I sometimes consider: Why do I keep the blog around? Why did I blog in the first place?

Those who’ve been around a while and gained a following in some circles over time often say (and I have to): You’ve got to do it for you! You blog first and foremost because you want to do it. You want to write. You want to process ideas. You want to clarify and crystallize the workings in your own mind. It doesn’t matter if no one reads it.

Except… it does, to some extent, doesn’t it? Blogs are in public spaces for others to read. Otherwise we’d write some things in a private journal and be done with it. We share on the world wide web, whether through blogs or other platforms, in part to connect with other people. But as popularity of a platform waxes and then wanes, making those connections can become harder.

Add to that, as life moves forward, we change. Our interests shift. Our styles turn. Our positioning in both formal and informal communities changes—and the communities change too. We lose the attention of some. What we have to say resonates with others. We maybe are looking for a different way to connect—a different level of formality or openness or depth or speed or familiarity.

I’ve been reflecting on these things a while. But I still haven’t reached any firm conclusions. I’m not quite ready to let go of the blog. I’m not quite ready to commit to a new venture. In part, 2018 brought big changes—a cross-country, a new job, co-habitation with my partner, new running goals*. It takes time for the turbulence to settle, for the new routine to feel routine.

So I’ll bide my time, continue to reflect, maybe dabble with some ideas. And we’ll see what 2019 brings.


* If you’re at all interested in the running side of things, you can follow that on the blog Boundary Conditions and associated Twitter account @RunningBoundary.

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