Is there a sadder word in the language than “almost?”
I read this week’s stream of consciousness prompt — the word, almost — and my head began to fill with almosts. He almost won the gold medal, but his ankle snapped in the last hundred meters. She almost got the job, but they found out about her side business selling pygmies as house pets. We almost got married, but my ex showed up at the last minute, burned the church down, and impaled my bride-to-be with my collectible Wayne Gretzky hockey stick, broken off at the handle.
Almost is the language of failure, it’s a word of defeat. But it’s not simply a coming-up-short, it’s worlds worse than a didn’t-quite-make-it, it’s an age away from never-really-had-a-chance. Why? Because with the almost, you can taste the victory.
There’s something comforting in not reaching for the dream, in admitting to yourself that you don’t really have what it takes to even start down the path. The blankets on the bed are warm, after all, and these reruns of Law and Order, Criminal Justice Unit for White-Collar Executives who Only Get Slaps On The Wrist aren’t going to watch themselves. You never start down the path, you never really think of how victory might feel, so you never miss out.
Or, okay, say you start; you make the resolutions, you block out the time, you hold fast for a few weeks, but then you bow out because it’s just too hard. That happens. Nothing to be ashamed of. This failure stings a little, because you “wasted” that time trying the thing, but it’s better to see you’re not cut out for it early than to change who you are, because change is fargoing scary. Nope, this one is a lesson learned, and that lesson is: stay home.
Right, so maybe quitting after just a few weeks isn’t your bag. You’re really determined to make this thing work this time, and you plug away at it for a few months or even maybe a year or so. Maybe even start to think it could happen. But you know what happens to everybody, eventually? LIFE HAPPENS. And work gets hectic, or you get that long bout of mono, or your deadbeat brother moves in, and god almighty, how are you supposed to deal with this thing that MUST be dealt with and that other thing you wanted to do? Something has to give, and we know what it’s going to be. At least you have something to blame this failure on, and blame is good, because you don’t have to own up to the fact that maybe it wasn’t that important to you anyway.
Which brings us to the almost. The saddest of the sad. Because with the almost, you do the work. You feel the change in yourself. You create or you achieve or you conquer or you otherwise get done the things you’re trying to get done, and little by little you gain on that big goal, that overarching thing that looked so monstrous when you first started, until it’s just a leap away… and then the catastrophe strikes. Broken ankle. Rejected manuscript. New guy gets the promotion over you. And you’re so focused on winning that you maybe don’t even realize that you’ve lost until the parade has started, and then it slowly dawns that the parade is not for you. How do you cope? How do you throw yourself at the wall again? How do you find the strength to go back to the beginning and start over?
But see… that’s one way to look at it.
The other way to look at it is that the almost is just a whisker away from the Mission Accomplished. The almost is one favorable gust of wind away from the parade being in your honor instead of the other guy’s. The almost is the difference between your boss or your book reviewer or your opponent skipping breakfast on the day that matters because he didn’t get a good night’s sleep instead of coming in with guns a’blazing. If you can get to the almost… well… how can you stop there?
I changed my mind from the beginning of the post. Almost isn’t the saddest word in the language. It’s maybe the most motivating ever.
What’s almost within your grasp? What have you almost achieved? And what’s to stop you from going back and trying it again?