I lost a brother on Saturday.
I know that when he was younger, my older brother Richard believed he could do some great things, but he never got around to actually doing them. I don't know why. I don't know if it was because of a practical upbringing or if it was due to lack of opportunity, or something else. There were many years between us, almost a generation, and we were virtual opposites in temperament. But the unspoken belief that we were capable of doing something more was something we shared.
I wasn't there when the end came. Many times in the past he said he had no regrets, but I don't think that was true. Like all of us, I think he had some, but because there were things he couldn't change, he didn't want to address them. Not being in control was something he couldn't tolerate.
The inability to change something leaves us feeling weak, powerless. But there are so many things we can't change, so many things that can't be undone.
Death is the most sobering, final reminder of opportunities squandered, roads not taken. It reminds you with cruel finality that if you don't pursue your passion now, you probably never will. Failure is a scary thing, and something we are all accustomed to. We know how bad it tastes and how difficult it is to swallow. Our lives are full of failure, with the ultimate loss waiting for us at the end of the journey.
Life is a short, quick stumble to a long, unending freefall.
It's safer not to try something difficult, something others tell us we aren't capable of. Self-doubt is debilitating. Then one day you realize that your life is slipping away. You know that all of the things you've put off, those dreams you've stored in the attic recesses of your mind, are never going to be realized. You will go to your grave pining for what might have been. Telling yourself you will get to it "some day" is a lie, because "some day" doesn't come to pass unless you make it happen. This is the epiphany I experienced just three short years ago. The clock was approaching midnight, and I had done little to achieve my dream.
My life was a failure for the worst possible reason: I had not really tried.
That is when I decided that the dream would no longer be deferred. I would make it happen and I would begin right now. What I didn't know, I would learn. What I couldn't do, I would find a way around. What was beyond my capability and skill, I would look for in others with similar aspirations. But what I would not do is delay the dream any longer. I would make movies.
It was a “call to arms” moment. A realization that failure wasn't a death sentence or judgment of incompetence. Failure is the road that must be traveled, the gauntlet that must be run, before achieving success. You should not be afraid of failure. Failure teaches harsh lessons, but it toughens you and challenges you to use what you've learned. You must build on failure, not let it defeat you.
You can do what you dream, as entrepreneur Elon Musk has proven. We need more people like Elon Musk, a man whose innovative thinking and pioneering spirit inspires daring, creative invention in the quest to reinvent the way we live. http://elonmusk.com/
In screenwriting, I teach that adversity reveals the character of the protagonist. And this holds true for all of us as human beings. It's easy to stay the course when the road has no potholes, but if you're bouncing along on one of Michigan's cratered highways, it's not so easy to resist the urge to take an off-ramp. It's how we respond to challenges and failures that measures our spirit.
That singular moment near the close of 2010 when I realized I would pursue a filmmaking career was both frightening and liberating. Though it was a definite leap from my comfort zone, it was also reassuring to know that if I did not carve out a successful career it would not be for lack of trying. No more half-hearted attempts for me. Standing on the edge of a cliff, there is no margin for error.
The human life span is far too short. On a planet billions of years old, even a hundred years is inconsequential. Take stock of your life. Are you doing what you always dreamed you'd do? Have you succumbed to that supposed “real life” and let your aspirations fade? Dig deep, and you'll find that your dreams still live deep inside you. Buried perhaps, but still alive. Alive and ready to be reactivated. If you fail, you can still be proud of the fact that you tried – really tried. There won't be any regrets for what might have been. Because it's better to take that final trip knowing that even if you failed, you pursued your passion with everything you've got.
I have known failure, crushing failure with things very important to me. Failure can embarrass and humiliate, but I don't regret those failures because they were pursued with honest intentions.
I try real hard to forget that I'm going to die some day. It's easier not to think about dying. Moments like this bring that cold, unforgiving truth home with sobering clarity. I do have some regrets. There are some things I will never be able to make right. There have been many missteps, many things left unsaid and undone, and some things I wish I hadn't said and done. But now I know the one regret I won't have is that I didn't pursue my passion. Win or lose, I will go down fighting for what I really want to do, the only thing that makes me feel worthwhile.
Life is not the only thing worth living. Your dreams are worth living, too.
The setting sun from the roof of Midbrook Products in Jackson, Michigan on Sunday, September 29, 2013.