Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Finding the Courage to "Go for it" (Life Changing Moments Series)

Sage Cohen is a great poet and author who I first "met" through my involvement with Poetic Asides and her involvement with Writing the Life Poetic (Writer's Digest Books). We started communicating then about poetry, but she's also turned into a great freelancer for both Writer's Market and Poet's Market. Plus, she sends out really amazing cards and poems from time to time, which make me think using mail in the right way is still a great method for deepening connections with others. In addition to Writing the Life Poetic, Sage is the author of The Productive Writer, also from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Visit Sage at

Sage Cohen, writer of notes and rider of bikes

Early in high school, I became infatuated with Ronnie McCord. He was in my gym class, a 40-minute reprieve from the caste divides of who is smart and who is popular and who is a stoner and who is a goodie-two-shoes. Ronnie was kind in an enigmatic sort of way, and he had those sad, looking-beyond-me eyes that would become my holy grail of fumbled romance for many years to come. Everyone knew that the people you talked to in gym class weren't the people you talked to in the halls–when you had your real clothes on and your real friends in reach.

For a week or two, I biked past Ronnie's house in Woodcrest every day after school, back and forth, back and forth as the leaves papered the streets with their departure. I don't know what I thought would happen if he actually came out and found me out there; but there was really no other choice. I'd been sucked into this boy's orbit. I needed something from him that I couldn't understand.

Finally, even the bike was not enough to impress my yearning for Ronnie in the pavement around his house. I became shy and strange in gym class. And then I decided. I must tell Ronnie the truth–I must unburden myself of its weight. I wrote this boy a letter. The words knew what they wanted to say; I wrote and carefully folded the notebook paper and shoved the wad at him one afternoon, overcome with hope and shame, as we headed out into the halls of our respective identities.

Ronnie never mentioned the letter.

Though I was fairly certain my feelings would not be reciprocated, being entirely ignored felt pretty awful. But that was only part of the story. Underneath the burning embarrassment was a more settled feeling of what in retrospect could only be called triumph. I had been brave. I had something to share and I shared it. And in doing so, I was released from my compulsive need for reciprocation. Just owning what was true for myself–and reaching for it–was enough.

The Importance of Going for It
This is the first memory I have of coming to awareness of the pleasure of "going for it," as distinct and independent from "getting it." I told myself that now I didn't have to wonder what could be possible with Ronnie. I had done my part and gotten my answer in his non-answer. Now I could move on.

A decade later in a city across the country from our south Jersey high school, Ronnie (now Ron) was dating a friend of mine–someone else from high school who had not been in my social caste at the time. I don't know how it happened but somehow, in this new context, we were all friends.

One day out of the blue, Ron thanked me for my letter. He told me that its honesty and straightforwardness had terrified him at the time, that he had been far too immature to know how to respond, and that he had always been ashamed of his lack of courage when I had taken such a risk. I was surprised and moved to hear that my letter had affected him at all. And was reminded that even when you don't get what you want, you can never presume to know why other people do what they do (or don't do.)

I think of Ronnie when I need to remember that it's ok to be clear about what I want, even if I'm not likely to get it. In fact, I have come to believe that it is not just ok, but in fact essential to my happiness. It's a rather efficient process, if you think about it. Had I not written Ronnie that letter, I might still be circling his house on my 10-speed. Instead, I got my answer and moved on to my next crush–Mark Holder, who pulled arrows out of my chest in a dream shortly thereafter.

The Power of Wanting and Reaching
I have come to appreciate reaching-and-missing as the best possible kind of psycho-social yoga there is. And, there are not many people who agree with me on this. Seth Godin suggests that we let go of expectation. Pema Chodron advises that we give up hope. But I think not-expecting and not-hoping makes things pretty darn confusing. If you don't know where you're headed, how can you know if you have arrived? In my experience, the most pleasurable part of moving towards a goal is the moving towards part.

The sticky part for us humans is how bad we can feel if and when we don't arrive.

What if we were to consider reaching for what we want the triumph, and anything that comes after that gravy? What if we were to be grateful to know certain things are out of reach, so we can hone in on what may be better suited for us in this moment? When we feel satisfied with how we hold our choices, the outcomes of those choices matter far less.

I didn't get Ronnie the boyfriend, but I got Ron the friend—it just took us a decade to get there. But really what I got when I wrote that letter was my very first glimpse of myself as a woman of clarity, a woman of truth, a woman who could live with no for an answer—and even be satisfied with no answer at all.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your story, and agree with your conclusions. However, one outcome of "going for it" that you seem to overlook here is the acquired wisdom of failure. Living through failure teaches one many lessons. Amongst the more significant is that one will live through it, and even find it tolerable, if not inspiring.

A lot of people who lack the courage to try are just afraid to fail because they haven't failed enough.

Andrea (Andee) Beltran said...

Lovely post, Sage. I, too, agree with your conclusions and think the above comment brings it home. There is are many lessons in failure if one learns to see them...

Meryl Baer said...

There are too many woulda-coulda-shoulda moments in our lives. It is usually better to 'go for it' rather than always wonder.

Sasha A. Palmer said...

I enjoyed this a lot. I was not brave, and I ended up 'biking around' for too many years. I don't have any regrets, for I wrote a lot of poetry while biking, and eventually got a life. But I did get a life, when I went for it. Gotta be brave.

Jonathan said...

I can relate. I sent a dozen roses on Valentine's Day to a crush of mine when I was sixteen. I saw her with them later that day in the school's main hallway. She looked away, and never spoke to me again. Humility mixed with a sense of accomplishment forced me to continue taking chances, as I learned that the humility didn't longer as long as expected. Great post, Sage!

Unknown said...

What you said about reaching was interesting. I know people who say, and I kind of like the philosophy, that we should abandon hope and get rid of expectations.

I think on some level both points of view are right. We SHOULD reach, even if we fail. We should always strive for something. This is, like you said, to make life less confusing, and really to make it fulfilling.

Yet to abandon hope is to provide focus precisely for what we are reaching for. Even if we're only reaching for the moment and to lower expectations. Life can easily distract us from what we truly deeply want, and using the "abandon hope" mentality can keep us on track, so that we ignore, or appreciate but abstain from the things we might like, but not as much as we want what we're after.

I find both philosophies purposeful and I think both are necessary to a happy life, in some shape or form. We are in need of goals, and we are also in need of living in the moment. I don't find them mutually exclusive.

PoetColette said...

I enjoyed the story about Ronnie and the lessons that came out of it. Encouraging post here!

Donna Amis Davis said...

Thank you for your beautifully written story. It brought back so many memories of those years of young love. My more recent triumph of "Finding the Courage to 'Go for it'" was launching a blog a little over a year ago. It was terrifying to 'put myself out there.' I had a little version of someone I know standing in my head and shooting multiple criticisms at me - 'Who do you think you are? Why do you think you have something to say? You aren't that great.' Etc.

A quote I found really helped me deal with that terror - "Don't be afraid of being afraid, because anxiety is a glimpse of your own daring." I think that is one of the things you are saying in your post. Oh, you mean I'm not a scaredy-cat, I'm really just being brave?

And, surprisingly, in the year-plus since I launched the blog, it hasn't happened yet. I'm still waiting for a flesh-and-blood critic to voice her complaints against me. And, happily, the little critic in my head is losing her power.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I just wanted to thank Sage for sharing this story and for everyone else chiming in with their own comments. Everyone has fear, but there's something amazing that happens when you try--even if you don't get what you wanted.

To tell you the truth, this Life Changing Moments series would not even be happening if I didn't finally just go for it. There's always a critic saying it'll never work.

Again, thanks to Sage for capturing this so well!

Hannah said...

"I think of Ronnie when I need to remember that it's ok to be clear about what I want, even if I'm not likely to get it. In fact, I have come to believe that it is not just ok, but in fact essential to my happiness." This and so many of the lines from this life sharing moment resonate with me, especially for this week!

I'm so happy you went for it with this series, too, Robert. Lots of very meaningful content so far. A life changing series, indeed!

Unknown said...

You always get what you need or want when you voice it. Regardless of the manifestation. Do you know how many passive aggressive folks complain instead of act?

Did you know that the battle is actually voicing the need or want?

Thank you. I'm inspired even more to write a contribution to this series.