Between the ages of eleven to eighteen both my son's used to be keen competitive swimmers. We used to get up every morning at 5 and take them into training in town. They'd train for an hour and a half in the morning and ten an hour in the evening after school. At weekends they'd either be competing or training. Occasionally they'd get a Sunday off. If it sounds horrendous it wasn't. They had a great social life and a wide circle of friends throughout the country. And they glowed. They had an aura about them. Life was fun.
They were both good too. Very, very good. For a while we even wondered if the eldest especially might not be good enough to make the Olympics. But good as they were they didn't win every race they entered. At that level there's always someone, somewhere, at some time who is is better than you.
I used to comfort them when they didn't win by saying that swimming was a competition they couldn't lose. No-one forced them to do it, they could opt out at any time, it was only a game.
Later on, as they grew up and started to make their ways in life, whenever they encountered any setback or disappointment I adapted the swimming analogy to console them. Life wasn't a competition you could lose etc. Sure it was a race in a way, but everyone was in it. There were no losers. No-one ever came second in life.
I was wrong of course.
You can certainly lose at life. All you have to do is fail to give it your best shot. Your very best shot. Then one day you'll wake up and realise it's all too late. And you'll feel bad, so very bad, because you'll know you didn't try as hard as you could have done. Whatever it was you once wanted so badly will be beyond you now. You'll have failed because you simply didn't try hard enough to make the most of your talents.
Writing is the same. It's years since I gave it my best shot, applied one hundred per cent effort. As a result, all those dreams I used to have, where are they now? Tarnished, gathering dust, most of them half forgotten. I'm not talking about getting published here either. I'm talking about writing something that you know is as good as you can make it, maybe even, in parts, perfect. Good writing doesn't just happen. You have to work your ass off at it, give everything, your very best shot until what you've got is as good as it can be. When you reach that point, find that word, shape that perfect sentence, you've won, and you can die happy. At least you can until the next page looms, when the race starts all over again.
Obvious as it may seem I've only just worked this out for myself. I can only hope I'm not too late to achieve something that's really important to me. From now on I'm going to give my writing my best shot. When I die I want to die happy.
And while I'm alive I certainly don't want to come last.