“If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings”
Rudyard Kipling’s “If”
The assumption of this poem is that disaster will come, our words will be twisted, our work crumble and we will lose it all. Of course, the other assumption is that we will have triumph, we will speak truth, we will build, and we will gamble all we have. Kipling writes this under the theme of becoming a man, but I think this applies to anyone who wants to discover who they are and make a life for themselves. If we are able to do these things we will be “men” and the world will be ours. To find our destiny we must meet disaster. To be who we were created to be we must see our work broken. There are great themes of risk and determination, but ultimately it is not a focus on accomplishment but a focus on how we live our lives. Are we risking it all? Are we building? How do we handle the ultimate failings of life?
In order for our tools to be worn they must be used- often and for a while. Building takes time. Kipling is saying that a man must have experience and that experience is in building and rebuilding what is destroyed. We cannot build without taking risks and we cannot become who we are destined to be without watching our work crumble, our dreams fade, and have our hearts broken. But the key to it all is in the beginning lines of that stanza- triumph and disaster are simply imposters. There are no real victories in life and there are no real defeats. There are no victors then, and no failures. There are only the builders and the quitters.
If we build a sandcastle we know it will be washed away. So let us pour our hearts into sandcastles. Every record in sports that is broken will be broken by another and every mountain climb will end at the top. It has never been about the outcome, we cannot measure ourselves by others. We are racing our own hearts, climbing our own fears, and discovering who we are. I can be an incredible builder with nothing but a trail of wet sand behind me. It’s how I live more than what is left.