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I Won. Now What?

I Won. Now What?

There are certain quotes or images or scenes that are somehow engraved in your brain so deeply that you’re never going to lose them–even if you’d like to. I should mention that I’m pretty sure I don’t have a photographic memory so I often get the edited, dance-remix version of my memories, but that’s OK. Adds character.

In the Shawshank RedemptionAndy Dufresne receives boxes of books and a check from the county library. I think it’s for $500. He had been writing the library for literally years, one letter every week. That’s every single week for years. Determined? No question. He was asking for new books for the prison library. He’d check with the postman at the prison to see if they had heard anything. For years, nothing. He kept at it. Every week. Finally, he gets books and a letter with a check.

You won the battle. Are you up for the war?

Brooks Hatlen (I’ll have to check my facts here at some point … or watch the movie again for the 39th time) says something like, “Gee, Andy, you really did it. You really beat the system. You got books and $500. You won.”

Andy, as he often does, smiles in his dreamy way, his mind and thoughts far away from the prison walls. Andy is extremely clever. So here’s where you’d think he says, “Yeah, I did.” and walks away, maybe humming of whistling a tune, kicking a pebble on the courtyard. But Andy is just getting started. He has won a battle, a long battle, but he’s up for the war.

He had been writing a letter a week for years. Rather than stopping, accepting his win, his success, his triumph, he says to Brooks:

“Now I’m going to write two a week.”

Brooks doesn’t even understand. In Brooks’ mind, the game is over, Andy won for crying out loud. What’s he even doing? Why would Andy write more letters? He WON. He should stop what he was doing, celebrate, and stop that dang letter writing!

Andy knows the fish are biting. In fact, they just bit. He knows what he did worked–he now has proof. It took determination and lots of time, but that’s OK, he has the determination and he certainly has the time. He didn’t stop, he didn’t give up. That’s all wonderful, but the truly telling part of the story is what he does when he “wins.” He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t settle, in fact, he doesn’t even do much celebrating. Andy is after bigger fish.

He keeps going and doubles his efforts.

He doubles his efforts and truly sends two letters a week. His next victory doesn’t take as long and the county library funds a whole new wing of the prison library. The county knows this guy isn’t going to give up, they’re not going to be rid of him with a few boxes and a check. But this “bigger picture” is just out of Brooksies’ league. It all seems magical to him, it seems impossible to Brooksie. But what did Andy really do? Anyone at the prison could have done it. He put in the hard time (pun intended) and kept at it. And at it. But the key is what he did when he hit that first peak. He didn’t turn around and go back down the mountain. He didn’t even turn around. He looked out over the horizon and planned his way to get to the tallest peak he could see. Then he kept going–and picked up the pace.

  • Possible: getting boxes of books and $500
  • Impossible: getting out of jail (although … )
  • Repossible: building a brand-new prison library

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I won the battle, now onto the war.

One down. Many to go. Ready? [Photo credit: John Muldoon]


1 Comment

  1. John Muldoon

    Wow. This is so good, Bradley, even for us non-inmates. Maybe especially for us. 🙂

    I think you’ve hit on the difference between average people, and people who change the world in some way.

    Average person has a small success, and stops.
    World changer has a small success, and accelerates.

    Reminds me of a really great post by DHH about “goal creep.”

    See, world-changers have something in common.



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