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I encounter my elephant

December 31, 2009

There’s that old story about the blind men and the elephant. Three (or five, or seven) blind men encounter an elephant. Not knowing the elephant as an elephant, each touches different areas of the elephant and announces its identity, an identity that is based on the limited area that they touched and not at all related to its identity as an elephant.

While I am suspicious of how easily the story’s sighted person identifies the elephant by looking at it, I have come back to that story the last few days. My most recent encounter: a professor in a class on environmental sustainability likened sustainable practices to elephants, pointing out that sustainability looks different in different regions and must be considered holistically.

So what I come back to, as I prepare to graduate, is two things: the professor and the action. First, I come back to the professor as one of the most kind and caring individuals I have known. He went out on a limb for me one quarter, and I hope not to forget that. He did me the kindness of not failing me, and the bigger kindness of telling me that failure was okay.

Then, the action. Right now this action has been the struggle for success, the desperate, unrelenting desire not to fail, and the act of juggling so many competing priorities that I can do little more than live in baseline survival. I feel as though I have encountered an elephant. In each part of my life I encounter a different element of it. Slowly, I put them together and see their integration. I realize that it is my own need to succeed, translated into an overwhelming fear of failure.

I wrote earlier this week of how disappointed I am at my loss of the bootstraps story. I want to hang on to that version of success, which is correlated to my own actions. And so I struggle with my faith and faithfulness in the face of my potential failure.

I know that high opportunity situations have high risks. I don’t want the risks, only the rewards, of taking chances. My elephant is my fear of failure, manifested in myriad ways that I recognize in themselves but not in the bigger picture.

Ed note: Originally published December 8,, 2009.

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