Chuck Wendig, wise and worldly as he is, has an excellent article over on his website today. Go read it.

While he is very correct about participation being given far too little credit, and while I agree with his assertion that failure is a positive and critically important paving stone in the road to success, I have been thinking about how participation without progress or improvement can be so difficult.

For example, I’m 5’6″ (soaking wet) and I don’t expect a growth spurt any time soon. If I were to be a fanatic about basketball and my one and only dream in life was to be a center in the NBA, “participation” isn’t going to cut it.

I could practice till I bled every day from kindergarten on through college, but I’m not going to be an NBA center. I might conceivably make it to the NBA as a guard, a three-point specialist, or a coach, but I’m never going to be a center.

If I truly love the game for its own sake, then playing every day could and would be an end unto itself. Participation would be sufficient – improvement would be the icing on the cake. But if my goal was truly to be a center in the NBA, even if I would accept another position, then being short, slow, and a lousy shot would never be overcome by sheer participation.

Perception is also an issue – trying to figure out if there’s any progress, improvement, or even change happening as a result of participation. If having at least some progress is a key goal (i.e., Chuck’s first five novels that sucked, then sucked a little less, then only sucked a little, with all of them leading to the point where his books didn’t suck and got published) isn’t it critical to have some sort of measuring stick to see what progress (or lack thereof) is being made?

That progress measurement is tough when you’re up to your ass in alligators. You get so tied up in just trying to make it from Day One to Day Two to Day Three and so on and sometimes it never, ever seems to end. It’s “Groundhog Day” over and over, the Red Queen’s race where you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in place. Under those circumstances, it seems that “participation” means “surviving in near perpetuity.”

Should that be given a reward?

What if there are no rewards? What if you live your particular Groundhog Day over and over ad infinitum but there’s  reward, no “atta boy,” no “you go, girl!” What if it all just grinds you down and exhausts you until you break and run away to join the circus?

Eternal stubbornness and participation as its own reward are important. But there’s a lot to be said for knowing when you’re being a damn fool and walking away, trophy or not.

Yesterday I participated. Today I was a participant. Tomorrow and all of the tomorrows beyond that I will participate.

I hope I’m not being a damn fool.

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