success is not a finish line

[15 years ago, deep in the woods]

I’m not going up there.

I’m not going up there; I don’t care what you say or what they say… I’m not doing it. I’ll just be a loser and watch. I don’t care.

It sounds like you care, I said quietly.

Tell me what you think ‘being a loser’ is.

Obviously, not finishing.

Not climbing.

Not getting to the top.

Not ringing the bell.

Not doing what every single other person is going to do.

I’m not going up there, and you can’t change my mind.

I… Well, I don’t want to change your mind. Not about climbing. Honestly, and hear me now- if you hear me at all today, I don’t care if you climb to the top of that wall.


What’s the point if I don’t climb? Why’d we do all this stuff today? Why’d we learn all the lingo and do all the practice? It’s all building up now, right? It’s all building up to us climbing that wall and ringing that bell.

I kept feeding the rope through the ATC, my eyes on my climber already at the top.

She wasn’t finished.

And, I know they’re going to cheer me on and I know they want me to try and I know they mean well and they’re my friends- yeah yeah yeah. But I don’t want to and I don’t have to and… well, I don’t want you to make a big scene. I don’t want it to be a big deal.

I’m not going to make a scene. I told you, this is your call. I asked you to put on a harness and a helmet and you’ve done that.  If that’s as far as you go, and you’re good with that, then great. I’m in. I’m not going to push you up that wall, and I’m not going to try to change your mind. It’s your deal.

She looked at me sideways out of the corner of her eyes. They were beginning to fill up with the emotion her heart could not hold anymore.

Do you think if you don’t climb that you’ve lost? 



Maybe I just need more time.


Friend, today will not be a success if you climb to the top of that wall. Today will be a success if you leave here tonight with more than what you came with this morning. Today will be a success- for you– if you are one step further down the road than when you arrived. If that looks like climbing the wall, then great. If that looks like climbing the wall blindfolded, fabulous. If that means putting on an awkward harness and learning how to care for your team mates but NOT climbing that wall, then amen.  

I don’t want everything for you.

I just want more.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

I yelled up the top as the boy finished his climb (just short of the bell) and told him to sit back as I lowered him to the ground. As I unhooked him, he unbuckled his helmet and set it on the bench… ready for the next climber.

You are not a loser if you don’t finish. If you don’t reach the top. If you don’t ring the bell. You are a loser if you learn nothing today. If you do not stretch your heart. If you believe the lie that one finish line fits all. You go as far as you can. I’ll push you one step farther to make sure you’re honest… and that’s it. You win.

She was quiet for a long time. I unhooked myself and started prepping another rope… giving her time to process. When I turned around, she was standing there with the helmet on waiting for me to double-check her work.

I figure I can climb to the red mark. That’s a step above our ladder at home. That’s all I’m going to do.

That sounds fine.

I’m ready when you are.

And , she did.

And, she won.

For the past 7 weeks, Rylie has been going to church on Tuesday nights and practicing a dance with her friends that would be a part of the Mother’s Day service. Thursday was the dress rehearsal, and the girls got to practice up on the big stage with the band and the lights and the auditorium.

As we entered the room, a microphone fell in front of a monitor sending feedback through the system and out every speaker in the room. We all covered our ears to hide from the chaos. Rylie was terrified and inconsolable… and she left, running.

I stood there for a moment- unsure of exactly what to do. The tears began to leak as I realized she might not be able to do this. This might simply be too hard. And, I know we claimed a spot in that class and I know we drove to rehearsals for weeks and I know most would define ‘success’ here by seeing Ry up on that stage Sunday morning.

But what if she couldn’t finish?

It’s so very hard to remember that success, that winning, that being the best doesn’t always mean being the first or being perfect or being unafraid. That, for Rylie, simply moving to music… simply holding her spot in line… simply smiling in a crowd was winning.

I don’t want everything for her. I just want more.

Sometimes I am the teacher and sometimes I am the student.

Rylie and I talked a lot of the next coupe days about what might and might not happen on Sunday morning. She would wear her costume, I would bring earplugs, we would arrive early… but she would decide.

She- not me or the music or the thousands of people around her- she would decide how far she would go.

And, she won.

(that’s Ry in the back/middle with the pigtails)

(she doesn’t dance much, but she smiles a lot)

(she wins)


About texasnorth

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It's home to 5 chickens, 25 longhorn cattle, a coonhound (Banjo), 1 barn cat, a husband, and 3 ridiculously funny children. The mom of this zoo has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. View all posts by texasnorth

6 responses to “success is not a finish line

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