The Enemy of the Good

Feeling a bit philosophical this morning, thought I’d toss something out based on some unrelated things bouncing in my head and some things said in a forum thread…

So this is just me, tossing something out there, for folks to chew on, think about, and discuss… I really don’t think I need a pep talk or anything like that, but I’m just curious what folks’ thoughts and opinions are on the topic.

Anyway, the topic is getting comfortable with one’s personal limits, as opposed to “settling” or doing less than one’s best.

The unrelated topic:  I’ve been watching this Discovery TV series about folks climing Everest.  This one guy made it up to, I dunno, 24,000 feet or so, and started getting sick, had to bail on his dream.  Later in the show, he talked about how he was satisfied, how he had reached his “own summit”, even if he hadn’t reached the actual top of the mountain.  He really had done his best, it was — i think — his second attempt at the mountain, he had done all the right things, but his body just couldn’t adapt to the altitude.

Watching this show, and thinking about the outdoor stuff I like to do and would like to do more of, I realized that I will NEVER climb Mt. Everest.  Even if I had the $50-70K to pay for a guided trip, there’s no way I’d make it across the crevasse ladders in the Khumbu Icefall, let alone the challenges at higher altitudes.  There are a lot of other fun things I’ll never do, too… sailing around the world, driving an F1 race car, playing tennis at a seriously competitive level, climbing a long, hard technical route, flying a fighter jet, doing the Hawaii Ironman triathlon, etc.

But there’s plenty of other exciting things I can do, instead, and push my personal limits, though they may not be so grand on a world scale.  I could climb Mt. Hood.  Far less expensive, much, much easier routes, and less than 12,000 feet.  I can hike all over the place, maybe even backpack the Appalachian Trail someday.  I could do some very easy, basic technical climbing.  I could take one of those “Skip Barber” type racing car classes.  Volunteer at the museum (more) and learn to run the locomotive.  Fly a Cessna.  Do a local triathlon (maybe even Ironman Louisville someday). You get the idea.

Yes, yes, the world is my oyster, I can do anything I set my mind to, don’t limit myself.  But as I get older, I’m beginning to appreciate that there is much joy to be had in embracing the achievable challenge.  That thing that is just beyond my personal limit, that pushes,stretches and grows me, even if there are others for whom it would be easy.  DOING something achievable wins out over not even trying the impossible, every day.  I will never be Ed Viesturs or Dale Jr. or Lance Armstrong.  I’m OK with that, or at least I should be.

Now, bringing this back to the hobby at hand.  I have limited time and resource to apply to this or any other hobby.  Got kids to raise and all that, after all.  I’m just a beginner in many aspects, and my personal best will not stack up to those who are more experienced and/or more talented than I, nor most likely than to those who have more time to devote.

I stare at my blue landscape with track, and quite often I become paralyzed because I have this vision of a Jon Grant-esque photorealistic stunner of a finished layout, and at the same time, I know my skills are not up to the task.  So I do nothing, and the layout (scenic-ly) grows dust.  It’s like this voice in my head is saying “If I can’t climb Everest, I just won’t do any outdoors stuff at all.”

So, instead, lately I’ve been laying down some grass, and cutting up foam for streets, and basically saying “Heck with it.  I’m going to do something, and if it turns out bad, I’ll just re-do it later, or I’ll learn from the experience and do it better next time.  Doing something badly — but my current personal best — and having some fun and making some progress that I can feel a sense of accomplishment with is far better than doing nothing.

There is an analogous saying in the software world: “Code wins.”  The idea is that the guy who actually writes code that DOES a needed task, even if it is not the theoretically optimal code, wins out over the guy who has 12 different — and arguably better — ways to accomplish the task, but hasn’t actually written any functioning code.

And so far it’s working!

I haven’t taken pictures yet (well, I have, but I’m not ready to share them), but I’m finally making some progress on the industrial end of the layout.  It’s perhaps mediocre (or perhaps more accurately, beginner) work at best, but it is the best I can do right now, given the time, money, talent, skill, and so on that I have to bring to bear.

It’s far from perfect, but I hope you will agree that it is GOOD, if for no other reason than that it is DONE.