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From about the time we’re born, we’re taught to go for the summit – get the best grades, be the best athlete, reach for the sky. Most of us succeed only occasionally. We might be great in English, but we suck at Chemistry. We’re really good on the soccer field, but basketball is beyond us. As a result, we hone in on what makes us exceptional and keep our eyes on the goal. We will write that great American novel one day or hang our work in that prestigious gallery. 

Then life happens. Bill paying, house cleaning, child rearing monotony, and slowly our dreams creep away. We still write in our free time or pull out the easel every once in awhile, but our heads are full of responsibility.

They’re also full of our memories of failure.

I knew a woman who decided she would be famous by the time she was twenty five. When that landmark passed, she set thirty as the new goal. She is almost fifty now, has written and published one book through a good, but obscure, small press, and is still hoping for the two book, $200,000 deal. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have another book to sell. She doesn’t follow industry news, is a luddite when it comes to technology, and doesn’t write – or at least not seriously.

Instead, she’s finishing up a second Master’s degree, speaks of the lyrical, the mystical, and poetry. She thought that additional education could provide a path to her ideal success. So far, it hasn’t made a difference – not because she doesn’t have the talent, but because she doesn’t work.  From her perspective, the world has told her she’s not good enough.

Success is seldom immediate and there is never a straight path, but so often we give up before we’ve given ourselves a chance.

Yesterday, I drove into the high country. Ten miles down a dirt road riddled with puddles, lumps, and ruts, I parked next to a meadow and went mushroom hunting with my love.

I’ve never done this before. Instead of determining a destination and focusing on getting there, we meandered up slopes and across valleys, our eyes on the forest floor. Abundant greens in emerald, moss, forest, and dark colored our myopic view. Mushrooms we never knew existed sprouted like fairy castles throughout the woods. We hunted, tripping and traipsing over downed trees and drainages, our legs scratched, our hearts singing.

At the end of the day (we’re talking hours and hours later) we had collected half a dozen tiny mushrooms we thought might be edible. This morning, we threw most of them away.What we thought were good were actually poisonous, but while it would have been an added plus to fry some up in a cream sauce, in the end it didn’t really matter. The journey was the treasure, not the mushrooms we hoped to devour.

Our hunt mimicked creative process. We set out with an idea and lose ourselves in the forests and castles in our mind and medium. We meander through words, colors, and texture in pursuit of something rare and magical. Sometimes, we find it. Most often we don’t, but does that diminish the endeavor? Last week I wrote 10,000 words in a new novel. Then, like my poisonous mushrooms, I had to toss it. Does that mean the effort wasn’t worth it?

I learned a great deal, wrote a passage or two I liked, and some day in the future, I’ll pull from my discarded manuscript.

Yesterday, we marked a few spots where tiny chanterelles had sprouted so we can find them again when they’re ready – but we won’t wait too long because, unattended, they’ll get soggy and wormy.

Like mushrooms, our ideas need time to mature. Just because they’re not ready the first time doesn’t mean we failed. In the same breath, if we procrastinate or let life get in the way, someone else will find them, we won’t remember where we left them, or they’ll just rot and fade away.

What do think? Have you meandered and found unexpected treasures you might have missed if you hadn’t allowed yourself to wander? Let me know. I love hearing from you.