Thursday, February 21, 2013

Suck it up, Buttercup

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." - Thomas A. Edison

"What winning is to me is not giving up, is no matter what's thrown at me, I can take it.  And I can keep going." - Patrick Swayze

We've all seen the movie, right?  The team--our team--is down.  Down, and most likely out.  The Tune Squad is down by one and it's up to a well-retired Jordan to sink it.  The Mean Machine just scored on a Fumblerooski and needs an unlikely two point conversion to score a W.  The Indians are tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and it's amazingly won by Hayes, who runs one in off of a bunted single. 

It's too bad life doesn't work like the movies do, right?

Thing is, I think it does for the most part, and several well-known quotations seem to agree with me.  "It's when things seem worst that you must not quit" ends my all-time favorite poem, for example.  Sure, life can be hard, the quotes all say, but the challenge is there to test your resolve, to teach you what you need to know, to give you something worth celebrating when you bust through.  It's there for a reason. 

So what's the difference between life and the movies?  In the movies you know, in the back of your head, that there's no way Joe Pytka is gonna let the Tune Squad lose, a catastrophe that would have Michael Jordan enslaved to Mister Swackhammer for a long, long time.  Also, you know that the movie is somewhere around an hour and a half long, a fact that allows you to pretty well judge when to expect the win for the boys--and Bugs--on the team. 

You don't know any of that in life, do you?  Some people find success on their first try.  Some need a few--or a few hundred--shots on goal.  Some end up learning thousands of ways not to make a commercially viable light bulb before they find the one way that will work.

Funny thing, that, actually.  Edison didn't invent the light bulb.  You knew that, right?  Volta demonstrated the concept 79 years before Edison's patent.  Does that mean Edison wasn't a brilliant inventor?  No, he's got a whole passel of other credits to his name.  But in the case of the invention that is most commonly illustrated with his efforts, he didn't actually invent it.  Oops.  What he did was take what other people were already doing and make it into a commercially viable product.  See, the first light bulbs didn't burn bright enough, or burned out too soon, or drew way too much power, or cost way too much.  Edison's light bulb was a consumer-grade product, though.  This product that made him famous took well over a year and several thousand attempts and what I've been told was nearly $50,000 worth of resources (a princely sum at that time) to figure out.

See, that's what made him most successful.  It wasn't that he was caught up in a brilliant flash of inspiration.  It was that he recognized something that was important to do and kept at it until he succeeded.

He sucked it up.

"Suck it up" is a phrase that we used in the Infantry to tell each other to keep going no matter how much it hurt.  Keep at it no matter how much mud you have to crawl through.  Move forward no matter how hot it gets.

Buttercup?  Heck, that just rhymes.

It's a phrase I used to hate, actually, because I associated it with hard times.  What guy in his early 20's wants to go through a rough patch?  What Infantry officer wants to come under fire en route to a hilltop instead of just walking up there?  Who goes into an athletic contest saying "Gee, I hope they make it really difficult for me to win"?

Yes, on that last, I know some athletes actually do think that way.  I didn't, then.  Now, though, I get it.  What writer wants to write half a million words that suck before he starts writing stuff that is good?  Well, now that I know it's how it works, I do.  I come home tired after a long day of work and still write, because it's important that I do so.

Nah.  I do it because I enjoy it.

I enjoy it because I've done it enough to develop that feeling, and because I know it's what has to be done to get good at it.

I enjoy it because it's important that I do so. 

Most peoples' problem, then, isn't that they don't know what to do to make a difference.  The problem is that they give up and quit before they start making a difference.  They need to keep at it.  They need to keep going.

They need to suck it up, Buttercup.


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