Rush of Achievement

There’s weird. There’s wonderful. And then there’s David Rush. The man is in a class by himself.

Several classes by himself, actually.

You see, Rush is an Idaho man who’s trying to become the Record Holder of Record Holders – the man who holds more Guinness world records at once than any other person. It’s a quest that has led to some extremely bizarre accomplishments.

Such as being the fastest person to sort M&M’s by color.

Or popping 200 balloons in less than 12 seconds.

Or, just last Thursday, hitting a target with a pump-powered rocket 37 times in a row.

Right now, according to UPI, this gold-level master of strangeness holds 163 simultaneous records, 20 short of his goal. He’s actually achieved 250 different records but – inevitably with a goal this long-term – some of them then got broken by others while he continued his journey. They had to move fast, though: at one point, Rush broke 52 records in 52 weeks.

Why do it? As he’s mentioned to Guinness and many others, he’s a promoter of STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) who simply wanted to show what focus on a goal could achieve.

“Too many students try, fail, and give up with a fixed mindset,” he says on his website, where he encourages a “growth mindset” instead – the idea that abilities aren’t simply innate, but can be developed through time, effort and help from others. “I can only do a very small part, but I’d like to do that part as well as I can.”

I suspect that hits home for a lot of us. It’s a message of hope, which I’ve described here before as “optimism plus sweat”: the willingness to commit to something better and then see it through.

And it remains powerful even when we’re aware that it’s not always that simple.

We’re all aware of boundaries in our lives. Some are more pliable than others. Some may be physical limitations, whether they’re as everyday as nearsightedness or as profound as severe childhood brain damage. Some have been set by society – we’ve all seen (or even experienced) stories of the additional challenges and barriers set due to poverty, race, gender, or an array of other qualities that can become a dividing line.

Can sufficient work, time and help overcome those? In many cases, sure – but the definition of “sufficient” is going to vary widely between individuals. For one person, a particular achievement may be as easy as a walk in the park. For another, it may be the equivalent of designing an entire space program from scratch.

Does that mean we should all give up? Heck, no. But it does mean  we all have a few additional lessons to remember.

First, be kind. Don’t assume that someone else is lazy just because they haven’t achieved what you think they should. You don’t know their burdens, their battles, or what they may have going on where no one else can see.

Second, try to see. Be aware of those around you. Understand as you would like to be understood, care about them as you would about yourself.

Finally, be the “help from others.” Encourage, teach, stand alongside. Find the boundaries that shouldn’t be there and help bring them down. Even when the limits are severe, work to grow what you can, like a garden behind a stone wall. Create opportunities – not all of them will be fulfilled, but you may be surprised at the ones that flourish.

Together, we can help each other grow. And help ourselves in the process. That’s an exciting feeling.

You might even say it’s quite a Rush.

All’s Fair

When it comes to gardening, my green thumb is more of a shade of black.

My cooking skills, despite many good intentions, stop somewhere south of boiled eggs.

My history with a sewing needle mostly consists of finding one in my feet at inconvenient times. (Come to think of it, is there ever a convenient time?)

In fact, if you go down the list – livestock, shooting, dancing, model rocketry – I’m about as far from a 4-H kid as it’s possible to get.

And yet, I remain fascinated by county fairs.

After 16 years of newspaper journalism, I’ve covered a lot of them, along with the fair-like events that spring up here and there, such as the “Beef Empire Days” of Garden City, Kansas. I’ve been sunburned at the parades, deafened at the demolition derbies and confused terribly by the layout. (“Let me get this straight – the barns go C, A and then B?”)

But always, always, the memory that sticks in my mind is sheer admiration for the kids. This is their show and they make the most of it.

Raise a 290-pound market pig? Sure. Pull 300 pounds behind a pedal-powered tractor? No problem. Take on projects in photography, woodworking, rocketry and jewelry and still have time to raise rabbits? Ask for something hard, why don’t you?

These are, in short, some of the most capable people I’ve ever met. And that’s what truly makes the county fair, any county fair, exceptional.

It’s a place where we still celebrate capability.

I don’t mean excellence. We’ll cheer endlessly at people who excel, sometimes in very esoteric fields. There are pancake races, competitive sauna meets , cow chip throwing contests and the real head-scratcher – curling. However strange the event, there’s someone who wants to be the best at it and more often than not, we’ll sit down to watch the struggle.

But the celebration of practical skill is something else entirely.

The science fiction author Robert Heinlein once said contemptuously that “specialization is for insects,” rattling off a long list of (for him) basic competencies that he felt any human being should possess, from changing a diaper to planning an invasion. If anything, most of us have gotten narrower since, relying on Google and YouTube to fill in the gaps in our education. (The night that Heather and I had to use an online search to locate our main water shutoff while the kitchen ceiling was giving way was a memorable one, indeed.)

And then there’s the fair. Your hands. Your work. Your competency, in as many fields as you have time and desire to take on. It’s a reminder of something older and more essential, a world that may have become even more distant to us than the farm itself.

At its heart, it’s a reaffirmation that we are more than our tools. That we’re builders, not just watchers.

That’s a statement with a lot of implications.

When even the simplest things are challenges, it’s easy to feel like a helpless bystander. “Fix the country? I can’t even fix my sink.” Get used to competency and it’s addictive. If I can do this, why not that? Or that?

After a while, optimism becomes natural. Even hope. Why not? When you already know achievement is possible, the only thing left to get used to is the scale.

That may be a life’s work. But hey – got anything better to do?

So here’s to the kids of the fair and all those behind them. May there be many more like you and still more inspired by you.

Because let’s face it, you’re more than fair.

You’re outstanding.