There’s a film I like called Gattaca. It’s a morality play about how each of us has inside us someone better and someone worse than the person we are right now.
There’s a particular scene where Vincent, our hero, who has been told all his life that he is inferior, is swimming in a raging storm, racing his perfect older brother, and beating him. Here’s the relevant exchange:
Anton Freeman: Vincent! How are you doing this Vincent? How have you done any of this? We have to go back.
Vincent: It’s too late for that. We’re closer to the other side.
Anton Freeman: What other side? You wanna drown us both?
Vincent: You wanna know how I did it? This is how I did it Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.
I won’t ruin the film for you by telling you anything else. But to me, the message of that was that if you’re going to become the best possible you, you have to use up your reserves. You have to leave nothing for the swim back. Vincent was Anton’s superior, because Vincent, though genetically inferior, was the best possible Vincent, and Anton, like most of those told they were genetically superior, never risked enough to become anything more than a pale shadow of what he could have been.
A few posts back I wrote about potential, and how all my life I was told that I had this immense potential, and how I was sure that I was a disappointment to most of the people that said that. I’ve also written about aging, and how with age comes the realization that there are a larger and larger number of things I will never get better at than I am right now. None of that is false.
But there was something buried in those posts that I am only now coming to understand. I am 42 years old now. I am, by most any measure, middle-aged. And what image does that call up for you? Yeah, me too. Consolidation. Conservation. Rationing of strength and resource. I finally hit an age where people don’t really expect me to do bigger things that those I have already done. I have become Vincent, after all my life as Anton.
All of us are Vincent. All of us have the potential to defy our limitations. But we cannot do it without doing what he did, and playing flat out. All the way. Pushing the chips to the center of the table and risking everything on the river card. Yes, we can certainly make a good life for ourselves without that. We can be happy. We can be safe.
But we cannot be extraordinary. In the last analysis, I believe that the greatest enemy of the amazing is not the terrible, but the pretty cool. The good enough. The decent. It is far harder to go from respected and competent to mind-blowing than it is to go there from awful. At awful, what do you have to lose? You don’t go back. You keep swimming to the farther shore, because you know you aren’t saving anything for the swim back.
We are meant to be extraordinary. We are meant to shine, not to glow faintly. Bet big. Risk. Try for something astonishing. Go all in.
If you do, my money’s on you.