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First-rate, second-hand wisdom: Try, try, etc.

Some famous philosopher once said: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

You’ll notice, there’s an extra “try” in there. Because if the philosopher had simply said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” it would seem too obvious, and he would have to add, “Duh.”

Without the extra “try,” the advice is as simple as the instructions — translated from the Taiwanese — that came with a rubber ball my children once received:

“Toss in air, have fun.”

Amazingly, my genius kids had already begun having fun with the ball, although neither one yet knew how to read!

I might even amend the success advice to:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try again.”

Because you might have to try four times, or more. Thomas Edison had to try more than 100 times, and he was only making a lightbulb, not a whole lifetime of human experience.

Of course, at the chicken fastfood place where I once worked, the cook-philosophers used to say:

“If at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry a hen.”

And in my high school typing class, we student philosophers liked to say:

“If at first you don’t succeed, buy, buy a pen.”

My teacher in that class, the famous philosopher Mrs. Lowery, had her own special words of advice:

“If you succeed at typing, you’ll never have to wait tables.”

That really hit me where I lived. In those days, we were all pretty sure we were going to grow up to be doctors or heads of corporations, or at least fashion models and stewardesses. But I knew that, if those plans did not succeed, I’d be particularly bad at remembering who had the scrambled eggs and who ordered the decaf.

So I figured that, just in case, I’d better learn to type.

Typing gave me a way to keep scrambled eggs on my own table as I worked my way through college, where I studied all the famous philosophers: Bob Dylan, Mr. Natural and Descartes.

I thought, therefore I was.

And while I never actually figured out the meaning of life, my choice of studies left me with the worst imaginable preparation for entering the job market. I could not have had fewer employment opportunities awaiting me unless I’d majored in blacksmithing, or bagpipe performance.

After all, what can a typing philosopher do for a living? I decided to become a columnist.

This was more challenging than I had guessed. It was perseverance that made the difference. I first had to become a classified ad typist at a small, local newspaper while secretly working on columns at night. Finally, the editor offered me a column space — but not a real job in the newsroom.

However, I was not about to give up! I knew I had to fry, fry a hen. Before long, I got a reporter’s job, my first real career-type job. A few years later, I sent a batch of columns to a bigger newspaper, and they offered me a job. Let’s summarize the rest of my journalism career in a montage that involves moving boxes, middle management position meltdowns, and cups of cold, stale coffee.

But I didn’t stop trying! The heady success of seeing my name in print had changed me somehow. I began to occasionally order pizzas under the name “Lois Lane.”

In the process of making all my dreams come true, I came to realize what Robin Williams recited in the movie “Dead Poet’s Society” was correct. As a teacher, he whispered to his students: “Carpe diem!” (Which means, “Seize the day!” and not, “Holy fish!”, as I had first guessed.)

I decided to go for the gusto, grab the brass ring, hitch my wagon to a star, shoot for the moon, and let my reach exceed my grasp. If I began to get discouraged , I just thought up more metaphors.

I try to keep my priorities straight. I remember the words of that famous philosopher, Dad, who used to say:

“As you travel on life’s highways, no matter what your goal,

Keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole.”

Even though he probably got that from a series of Burma Shave signs — and although we now acknowledge that donuts contain dangerously high levels of fat — I know what Dad meant.

He meant that, even as you keep trying to succeed, it’s important to focus on what you have rather than what you want. Because in the final tally, you don’t have to succeed. All you have to do is try.

And if that fails? Fry a hen. Or buy a pen. Or at least, toss in air, have fun.

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