The Things That Matter

I’ve been thinking about the castles that we storm and most particularly the inner castles that we storm as brave warriors, sword in hand, shield on arm. And whether we’re filled with dread, bravado, or grim determination… it’s a very warlike metaphor. And that beautiful quote from Princess Bride just turns it on its head: “Have fun storming the castle!” (And sometimes we don’t have a sword or a shield, we’ve got a wheelbarrow and a costume.)

I feel like in my own life of introspection and personal growth I’ve had more of a “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!” approach which brings its own difficulties. Perhaps that’s why I’m so intrigued with this idea of enjoying storming the castle. And possibly it’s because that I’ve finally started enjoying it.

I’ve also been thinking about this meme I got from Sifu Anthony, quoting D.L. Moody, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” And you know, in the nearly forty-four years of my life thus far I have succeeded at plenty of things that don’t really matter. Sometimes it’s a little more obvious to me. Sometimes it’s obvious only with more significant hindsight.

And too, there are those things I’ve succeeded in that I couldn’t understand their importance at the time, but I just knew I had to do them. And as it turns out, they’ve been invaluable. I will say, the invaluable things tended to be classes I’ve taken, jobs I’ve tried, conversations I’ve had, and stories I’ve written. Their intrinsic value at the time seemed so low, but something inside me said do that thing now. 

And I also think of online games, which I’ve succeeded in, and offline games, too. Games are fun distractions and that’s at least half their point. But when I think of the games that mattered that I played, those were games I played with other people. People I knew and loved, or got to know and came to love. Softball. Badminton. Lawn Croquet. Cribbage. Skipbo. Escape rooms. Board games. The competition or cooperation, the skill and problem solving, the pure dumb luck – yes, all these things, but really… interacting with others from a place of joy and love.

The thing in common, I think, with the category of ‘things that matter’ is that they’ve changed me for the better. I’m a better person because I’ve experienced them, even only just slightly. (That’s okay – a slight change for the better is surely preferable than a slight change for the worse! And all the slight changes add up, regardless.) 

And of course the thing in common with the category of ‘things that don’t matter’ is that they’ve either stalled my forward progress, or they’ve changed me for the worse, even just slightly.

And when I think about it like that, the Moody quote seems even more powerful. To succeed at something that has changed me for the worse means… well, it means that I’ve not just changed only slightly for the worse. I mean, if I’m a success there then I’ve changed a whole bunch for the worse, even if it started out small at first. In that case, failing at a big positive change and only managing to grab onto a little positive change… that really is so much better, so profoundly preferable to succeeding at something that has changed me significantly for the worse.

The take home message here is maybe already obvious to you:

Can you risk failing in an attempt at something that matters? Do you already do it regularly? Or is it a comfortable old friend, those activities and patterns and pursuits that don’t really matter? How many achievements have you unlocked in each category? Which ones do you want to focus on tomorrow?

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