This post was originally published on The Road to Brave.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
As I type those words, hearing them bounce around my head from distant childhood memories, I’m wondering how many generations of kids have grown up hearing that. Apparently this quote has been around since the 1840’s, so I’m guessing quite a few. It is admittedly a great quote for the start of a new year—a time always packed with new resolutions and old goals and dusted-off-dreams.
But what if you’re not willing to try…the first time?
Not that I would know anything about that, of course.
But trying is tough. Somewhere along the line, we realize that trying things can result in failure as much as it can result in success. Failure is scary. And so we often quit trying.
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Honest admission: I lived through long stretches of young adult life where I was terrified of getting stuck in anything. I know, it seems really ridiculous in retrospect. But as a teenager, I was so afraid of getting stuck in something I didn’t like that…I didn’t…try things. I had an interest in writing, but I was afraid of getting into something and then disliking it, so I never got into it. I had an interest in social justice, but I was afraid of getting into something over my head, so I never got into it. I had an interest in linguistics, but I was afraid of getting bored, so I never got into it.
Maybe it’s just me. But after loads of conversations with other young adults, I have a hunch it isn’t.
How about you?
Maybe it wasn’t a specific hobby you didn’t try or a specific job you didn’t pursue. But what have you chosen to leave on the table because you just weren’t sure? How many beautiful, amazing things do we never attempt because we’re afraid of trying? Because we’re afraid of success? Because we’re afraid of failure? Because we’re afraid of getting “stuck”?
I wish I’d known then what I know now—that the only way we leave marks on this world is when we pull the cap off the pen and start writing. Or sketching. Or scrawling.
But being brave enough to try is a difficult thing.
On that note, have you ever tried watching almost thirty children from “walking” to age two? It’s a time, let me tell you.
In our late teens my sister and I used to help babysit for a mom’s Bible study. Since we were the youngest volunteers, they put us with one other volunteer in the “walking to two” room, which we learned shortly thereafter was also the most challenging. Usually we had between ten and twenty toddlers running (or dancing, or crawling, or playing, or fighting, or crying) about. But one particular day, almost thirty showed up. We smiled grimly, laced up our tennis shoes, and grabbed the goldfish box.
We slept well that night.
But as hard as it was to keep all those little munchkins happy for two hours, there were also some really valuable lessons to be learned from them. Toddlers aren’t afraid to try things. Almost anything, in fact. New toys? New table? New snack? New person? Let’s put EVERYTHING in our mouths (including other people). Let’s climb on EVERYTHING (or jump off EVERYTHING). Let’s wrestle and play with and throw and manipulate things until we know how they work and what they do.
And toddlers learn SO fast. It’s always rewarding to see their little neurons firing and making connections (even when you need them to physically slow down and sometimes wish their new neural pathways would connect a little slower).
But then somewhere along the way toward adulthood, we stop doing that.
Somewhere along the way, we quit the experimenting and the playing and the attempting new things we’ve never thought about before.
Somewhere along the way, we stop trying.
Sure, failure is scary. But it’s only scary when we hang onto the crazy idea that a failure becomes part of who we are—part of our identity. “I failed” becomes “I am a failure”. Which isn’t true. What is failure, really? Making a mistake at a job? Experiencing an ended relationship? Having a book you wrote bomb?
Or is failure actually letting the fear of failure keep you from working a job you think you might enjoy, from daring to love someone, from writing or playing or creating or producing something that adds value to somebody’s life?
Hear me carefully—I’m not saying to be stupid. But most young people err much further on the side of seeking a life of extreme safety by not trying and not failing, not the side of jump in with no thought or consideration.
Sure, the idea of getting stuck isn’t fun. But honestly, unless you are talking about marrying someone or having children or maybe getting a tattoo ;), there are few things in life you can’t pivot-and-adjust in. College degree? Yeah, true, it can be very costly. Definitely be smart about it (no pun intended). But if you try to make the best choice for your life and decide that’s a college degree and then later decide it wasn’t the right call, well, chock it up to a great life lesson, appreciate the education you now have, focus on the transferable skills (which you will have a lot of), get a good financial advisor if you’ve got some student debt, and just move on. You can always pick up a new job, get a different education, teach yourself a new career. Speaking of a new job? Get it. And if you don’t like it, learn what you can and then gracefully move on. Hobby? Give it a go. Think about what you enjoyed about it and what you didn’t.
With most of these things, you can even test them out first through internships or courses or classes or volunteering. DO IT. Don’t be afraid to dip your toes in, and definitely don’t be afraid to take a jump off a cliff every now and again. Consider not writing something off (figuratively unless you’re an aspiring author, in which case this becomes literal) until after you’ve given it at least 50–100 hours or more.
Because at the end of the day, there’s something we get to rest in. I was once lamenting (angstily, as young adults are wont to do) to a mentor about how I didn’t know what to do next, and so I was spinning my wheels (for months) trying to figure it out. And they asked me, “Are you really big enough to mess up the will of God for your life?”
Properly chagrined, I had to admit that no, I’m not. I often live like I am, though. Like there’s a wrong thing and a right thing for me to do, and if I don’t pick the right thing (and by extension get stuck in the wrong thing), I’ve clearly hurled my God-given purpose off a cliff and good luck ever retrieving it.
Where, in that belief, is there room for a God Who loves me so much He gave His life for mine?
Where, in that belief, is there room for a God Who can put me right where He wants me and, if I take a left at Albuquerque, is not able to bring me right back?
Am I really big enough to mess up the will of God for my life? Or, if I am actively seeking to love Him with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, and put His kingdom first, and study His word, and seek wise counsel, do I trust Him enough to be willing to go for it? If I think He’s leading me to college and then later I’m not sure why, do I trust Him? If I think He’s leading me to a specific job and then I experience challenges or a layoff, do I trust Him? If I think He’s given me specific skills and then I keep hitting roadblocks, do I trust Him?
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
When I heard that (for the hundredth time) as a teenager, I wish I’d known then what I know now — that the only way we leave marks on this world is when we pull the cap off the pen and start writing.
As we take steps forward into 2024, leaving footprints in the untrodden snow of a brand new year, be brave enough to scrawl. It’s okay if it’s messy. It’s okay if we don’t know exactly what we’re doing or where we’ll end up. It’s okay if we decide we want to crumple that page up and grab a new one.
Leave the outcome in God’s hands.
This week, this year, may we be brave enough to try.
Victoria Schurter is the VP of Content and Development for Unbound. An Unbound graduate, Victoria has served in a variety of roles including student leadership, coaching, and in the Business and Leadership program. She is passionate about equipping young adults to recognize their potential, to know God, and make Him known in daily life.
When she’s not working on an Unbound project, you can find her scribbling on a novel, playing a favorite instrument, riding horses, watching a sunset, or dreaming up some new adventure that absolutely includes the Pacific coastline. One of the best parts of her world is walking alongside her fellow Unbound students as they make an eternal impact in their generation.