Aim high

When I was a young professor, freshly minted, I was talking to one of my colleagues at lunch.  He had been both my professor and my advisor back during my undergraduate days.  I was explaining to him about an article I had recently written and submitted to one of the premier journals in my particular field of study.  He listened to me for awhile, then shook his head and told me that I had wasted my time.  “There’s no sense submitting to that journal.  You’re an unknown and unless you happen to know someone there, there’s no way that you’ll ever get published by them.”

            Rather discouraged, I slinked back to my office.  If I hadn’t already sent the article off to that journal, I’m sure I’d have dumped it in the trash.  I was sure that all I had to look forward to now was the inevitable form rejection letter from that journal.  “Of course he’s right,” I told myself.  “He knows these things; he’s been doing this for years.  Who do I think I am?”

            Only two days later I received a letter from the editor of the journal. 

It wasn’t a rejection letter. 

Instead, the editor expressed his joy and excitement over my article.  Not only was it published, he delayed previously scheduled articles so that my article could come out quickly.  The article turned out to be of some significance within a narrow sub-specialization of study, earning me both recognition and multiple footnotes in heavy academic tomes. 

            When I write a book, I have a friend who will read it for me, offering criticism and suggestions and giving me ideas.  She offers me valuable and positive criticism.  We all need people in our lives who can let us know when we’ve made a mistake, when we could do something better than we have, who will suggest needed change.

            But then there are the other sorts of critics.  Critics like my well-meaning colleague.  People who will explain to you in great detail why your dream is impossible and why it is a waste of everyone’s time.   Sometimes they only have the best of intentions, to spare you disappointment.  Doubtless we have seen such critics at work in our lives and the lives of those around us.  They are the perpetual wet blankets who always discern why a given course of action isn’t possible.  The teacher or parent who tells a child that he will never amount to anything.  The classmates who laughed when you told them you wanted to be a doctor.

            These are not useful critics.  These are the naysayers who destroy rather than create, who tear down rather than build.  We need to remember that history is littered with the debris of people who said “it can’t be done.” 

They don’t build statues for such people.  No monuments are ever erected to the people who explained why it was impossible.  No memorials are dedicated to those who explained that the way was too hard, so why try.  No days are set aside for those who pontificated on why we need to be reasonable and keep our goals limited to what we know we can do, which is precious little.  No history book praises those who said we shouldn’t waste our money.  We do not celebrate those who just said no. Such people lead quiet lives, they often are well respected in their day and most people listen to them. 

But it is those who decided to attempt the impossible, who built the tall buildings, who risked and took a chance, who crossed the seas, who righted long-standing wrongs, who acted for freedom, who went to the moon who will be remembered long after their critics are gone.  It is to such people, those who don’t say no, for whom shrines are erected and history sings praise.

So don’t give up and don’t listen to those who will tell you that you should.  They might be right, of course, but what are the odds?  The pessimists who proclaim endless doom never seem to quite get it right.  The track record of the optimists seems much better.  So just say no to the naysayers.  They’ve always been on the wrong side of history.  Stand with those who shoot for the stars.  Sooner or later they reach them.