While delving down the Wikipedia rabbit hole this weekend, I stumbled upon a Jose Mourinho (manager of Manchester United Football Club) quote about a rival manager: “This could be the story of a donkey who worked for 30 years but never became a horse.” The identity of the rival manager is irrelevant. For those who have followed Mourinho, you may well understand that he believes everyone but himself to be a donkey. The metaphor, though clearly enough understood, got me to thinking; what is wrong with being a donkey? And what is it about society that not only encourages us to believe that with enough effort, we too can become a horse but also, that anything less is failure?

Like many young boys, I wanted to play hockey for a living. Fortunately in my case, my early recognition that when it came to hockey my equine tendencies gravitated toward the donkey side of the family, saved me years of toil chasing a dream that was likely unattainable. Others are not so fortunate. There are occasional examples of men reaching the pinnacle of the sport, and playing their first NHL game as 30 year olds. The stories are always heartwarming, and are often accompanied with video of Mom and Dad crying in the crowd as witness to their sons perseverance. Every sport has their Rudy moment, and it makes good television. The untold story however, is that for every 30 year old who finally makes it to the show, there are 10,000 kids – or 29 year olds, that convince themselves the door remains open for them.

Selling hope is a fine line. I too want my kids to believe they can do anything they put their minds to. And yes, there is something to be said about belief and pursuing your dreams with all your heart. You cannot after all, accomplish anything that you do not first believe to be possible. But at some point, life requires accepting what your gifts are and are not. The sooner I was able to accept that maybe I was not a horse, the sooner I was able turn my attention to becoming a better donkey.

This morning I read a story of a climber who died on Mount Everest, on his 8th attempt at the summit. It is tough to argue his perseverance. It would be unfair of me to be critical of his efforts and his passions. A part of me admires him for it. But it is also tough to argue the fact that had he realized after his 7th attempt that reaching the summit of that particular mountain was not in his destiny, he would still be alive today. We all have our mountains to climb. Just because we may be a donkey on one mountain, doesnt mean we cannot be a horse on another.

Thanks for reading,

Jeff Neumann