What’s the Worst that can Happen if You Go All In?

The case for getting your hopes up.

Photo by Ben Noble on Unsplash

Let’s say you have a dream. Something huge. Something so big that you don’t really talk about it, because if you did, you’re pretty sure everyone you know would laugh at you.

Lets say you want to be the President of the United States.

You’ve practiced your inauguration speech with a hair brush microphone in front of the mirror ever since you were third grade class secretary. You watch every debate. Even those for candidates that belong to the other party. You’ve voted in every election, even the midterms, since you turned eighteen. You wear an American flag pin on your lapel.

Politics matter to you and deep down, your secret goal is to be POTUS. You want to be the next JFK or LBJ or FDR. You know it’s the job you were born for. But you never talk about it, because it’s a pipe dream.

It’s not something that you really think will ever happen. The possibility is so ridiculously remote that you just never do anything about it. Forget going all in, you never even take the first step.

But what would happen if you went for it.

I mean, if you just took whatever steps you can think of that feel like they’re steps down the path toward the oval office — what’s the worst that could happen?

The exciting thing is that there’s no way to know.

Here’s what might happen. Maybe you’ll go to night school and study law, because politicians are often lawyers. Maybe you’ll run for the school board or the city counsel. Maybe you’ll get involved in community politics and make a difference in the lives of your neighbors.

Will you ever be president? Who knows. Chances are slim, for sure. But know what makes them slimmer? Having a deep, burning desire to be the President of the United States and managing your expectations to the extent that you become an accountant instead.

Maybe you’ll be an accountant anyway. I mean, everyone has to pay their rent and, you know, eat. You might not even hate your job. But you could spend your free time in law school or volunteering for a campaign or being active with your party of choice.

Let me ask that question again.

What’s the worst that can happen if you stop managing your expectations and go all in?

You might be disappointed. Maybe you’ll be embarrassed. Maybe you’ll alienate some people. You might spend some money and you’ll definitely spend a lot of time that might not pay the dividends that you’d hoped for.

Maybe you won’t be POTUS.

Maybe you won’t be a Broadway star.

Maybe you won’t play for the NBA.

Maybe you won’t be a bestselling author, have your songs on the radio, or get accepted to Yale.

It’s entirely possible that you will not even come close to your dream. But will that disappointment be the worst thing that happens? If it is, I have great news.

Disappointment isn’t fatal.

It sucks and it hurts, but it’s not usually disasterous.

If you let it, getting your hopes up has value all by itself. It feels good. It opens your mind so that you can see the paths that might at least possibly lead to your dream. It gets you moving.

Like I said. Maybe you won’t be POTUS. But you might really love being on the city council. Or being a lawyer, if you go all in on that law school thing. Or being a leader in your community. Or all of the above.

And if fear of disappointment stops you from going all in, you’ll never know.

My story.

Today, I got an email from the publicity department at Macmillan. I’ve been assigned a publicist. My publicist wants to know if I’d like her to help me set up a local book launch for The Astonishing Maybe — my novel that’s releasing in March 2019.

Fourteen years ago, I sat down and wrote my first book during Nanowrimo. I was roughly three million months pregnant with my daughter, Ruby, who was born on December 8. I needed to take my mind off my misery and the fact that it was literally never, ever going to be December. So I figured…why not fulfill a lifelong dream and write a novel?

So I did. And it sucked. Badly. But once I knew I could do it, something shifted in me. Once I knew that I could actually write an entire novel all the way to the end, I realized the rest was mechanics. I could learn how to write better.

I made a conscious decision to go for it as hard as I could. I have written fiction everyday for fourteen years. Every day. I went to school and studied creative writing. (I graduated with an MFA last summer.) I sought out other writers to learn from. I became an autodidact. And, like I said, I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote.

Basically, going all in looks like this for me: I write a lot, and I do everything I can to be sure that everything I write is better than the last thing I wrote.

My goal was (and, let’s be honest, is) to write a classic children’s book on the level of my favorite book of all time: Little Women. That’s right. My goal is to be the next Louisa May Alcott.

Publicist aside, I am not the next Louisa May Alcott. The chances are very, very good that I won’t ever be.

It’s much more likely that I’ll be a solidly mid-list author who gets to publish on a semi-regular basis.

It is already certain that I’ll get to earn a living as a storyteller, at least for a little while. At least for the last two years and the next six months or so.

It is also certain that I’ll have an MFA and be qualified to teach other writers or maybe teach English at a high school.

It is also guaranteed that if I didn’t continue to write, because that first novel sucked (or if I never wrote it, because the chances of me ever earning a living as a writer, much less becoming Louisa May Alcott, were beyond slim), I would not have the life I have now. I would not be a writer or a teacher. I would not have Ninja Writers.

I might not ever get another book contract. I might never be a bestseller. My books may never make it out of obscurity. I might be disappointed. God knows, I have been fairly often in the last fourteen years. I might have to go teach high school English when my book money runs out.

But, I get my hopes up as often as humanly possible. I want to see what happens if I don’t stop.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.