Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: courage


“Politics is the art of the possible,” said the master of European statecraft, Otto von Bismarck. As true as that may be, there are still people running for office hoping to accomplish the impossible. You may ask, why would anyone pursue elected office when the odds are simply ridiculous? What would compel a Texas Democrat to run for Congress in a district where 85% of the voters will likely vote for the sitting Republican Congressman? Why would he do it? Just plain stubborn? A fools errand? Dilettante’s impossible dream?


Mike Minter for Congress campaign photo

More to the point, of this post anyway, how would you make a documentary about him, when you can sum up the story in a simple statement – he’s a man who can’t possibly win but goes ahead anyway.


Filmmaker Marco Ricci

Two days before America’s mid-term elections, the NYT released an intriguing video about the singular run for office of Mike Minter and his effort to rekindle interest in Texas’ Democratic party. The NYT video was made by Marco Ricci as part of his larger documentary project, A Million to One, the story of first-time candidates fighting to unseat incumbents in two of the nation’s most partisan districts.


Here’s how Marco Ricci characterizes Mike Minter’s story:


Filmmaker Marco Ricci from his site

“The Texas 13th congressional district. Forty-thousand square miles of endless plains. It’s larger than 16 states and has more cattle than people. Republicans outnumber democrats 9 to 1. In the 2014 primary, seven counties in the district didn’t register a single Democratic vote. Yet over the past 6 months Democrat Mike Minter has put 30,000 miles on his pick-up, crisscrossing the district in an attempt to turn the 13th blue.”

The video is just below. I found it well-made and intriguing. It’s also a great example of storytelling when, on the face of it, there just isn’t that much of a story to tell. It’s a credit to Marco Ricci that he sustains our interest throughout his piece, Lone Star Candidate.

In Lone Star Candidate Marco Ricci creates a simple but effective story structure. He starts with giving us a sense of the challenge and introduces his subject, Mike Minter, as a friendly and charming candidate.


Mike Minter at the local Democratic party HQ

He may be a man on a mission, but he’s hardly an egomaniac, or a fool. He confides to us early on that he won’t win. Still, Marco Ricci shows us moments with Minter that emphasize his folksy charm, good will and determination as he pursues his hopeless battle.

I like that Ricci felt he didn’t need to add the presence of Minter’s Republican opponent. After all, the story is exploring what makes a man pursue the impossible dream, so Ricci was comfortable letting the facts speak for themselves. I also like his text insertions – they give the visuals a larger context. The facts are presented simply and directly in support of the storytelling.

At first, the video focuses on Minter’s drive and optimism. Later, it takes a turn as he talks about what fuels politics in America – money. We can see, he’s running his campaign on a handshake and a smile. As the piece shows us some of the obstacles that lay in Mike’s path, you begin to understand the toll the campaign takes on him, his business and his family. Still, the video ends on an optimistic note.


Mark Minter from the NYT website

As affable as Mike Minter appears, you can tell that Marco Ricci has worked hard to gain his trust. Ricci reveals an intimate, vulnerable portrait of a man confronting significant difficulties. Still, we can’t help but admire his quixotic nature and determination to go forward. I like Mike’s analogy at the end of the piece, as he says if you want to pick up a full-grown bull, you have to start by picking up a calf.


Mark Minter on the campaign trail

What do you think? What’s your take on Marco Ricci’s video about a man pursuing an impossible mission? Leave a comment and let me know.


The Courage to Fail

Courage and Failure

It takes courage to embrace the possibility of failure. It isn’t failure itself, but the fear of failure that keeps us from stretching or going beyond our comfort zone. When something inside us suggests the possibility of “yes,” fear of failure compels us to say “no.” Fear of failure makes us anxious and uncertain. We do what we can to avoid it – take the safe route and stick to what’s expected. And we tell ourselves that taking the safe path is the reasonable thing to do. It certainly seems reasonable. But it can also be about listening to the fear.

paper bag thinking.com2

From the site

On the other hand, we can see that our lives are about the choices we make. Which path do we pursue? What do we bring with us on the journey? Courage helps us face our fears – face the anxiety of the unknown and go forward. Courage is about embracing risk and accepting that our choices may include the possibility of failure.

“Living My Most Fearful Self”

If you’re not familiar with her work, I’d like to introduce you to Debbie Millman.

Debbie Millman from The Great Discontent website

A prolific designer/educator/author/interviewer, Debbie has been exploring the creative life in terms of risk, failure and courage. From an interview on The Great Discontent website:

From the Portable Talks website

My first ten years after college were experiments in rejection and despair. I knew that I wanted to do something special but, frankly, I didn’t have the guts to do anything special. When I graduated, I didn’t feel confident enough, optimistic enough, or hopeful enough to believe that I could get what I really wanted. I wasn’t living what I would consider to be my highest self—in fact, I was probably living my most fearful self.

She goes on to talk about the role serendipity played in her life.

My whole life has been one thing leading to another, leading to another, and then another. It has been completely circuitous and mostly unplanned. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about these chance encounters: those elusive happenstances that often lead to defining moments in our lives.

Those Elusive Moments of Serendipity

Many of the amazing opportunities I’ve had in my career came from those same elusive moments of serendipity. More than that, the best assignments were the ones that scared me – the occasions when I said “yes” and then had to draw my own road map on how to get it done.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 10.49.52 PM

Title capture from the PBS series “Mini-Dragons’

I was once asked if I would go to Japan to teach the NHK TV documentary team how to craft their stories in the feature documentary style. I would have to show them how to structure their documentaries without narration or talking heads and to create dramatic visual scenes with a beginning, middle and end – in other words, to show, not tell the story. I knew from the start I would be walking into polite but hostile territory and that it would be an enormous challenge to make it work, but I said “yes” despite the fact that I’d never done anything like that before.

It was a great time of personal growth. I stretched the limits of what I thought I could do and ended up surprising myself. Yes, it was difficult and challenging and often I was running scared, but it taught me that it’s more important to say “yes” and accept the fear than take the safe route, avoid failure, and drift into boredom and mediocrity. I’ve done both and doing the scary thing yields better results – when you work at the edge of your comfort zone you feel better about yourself and more alive. It’s also more fun.

A Cool Video on Failure, Safety and Courage

I want to get back to Debbie Millman and her video “Fail-Safe” exploring risk, failure and courage. There’s a link to it a little farther down the piece.

From the Adobe Inspire website

I really like the video’s message and its simple but effective approach to telling a story – her story really. Here’s a quote that launches the story:

From the Adobe Inspire website

I lingered at the intersection peering deep into my future and pondered the choice between the secure and the uncertain, between the creative and the logical, between the known and the unknown.


I think many of us can harken back to a moment when we confronted a choice about which direction to embrace – the easy or difficult path. Underlying the uncertainty was our fear of failure v. our willingness to embrace risk. Looking back, she talks about her own fear of failure and insecurity, the choice she made and where it led her.


From the Adobe Inspire website


I feel like everything I’ve done has required some risk. I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk.

Her video “Fail-Safe,” is from the Fast Company Design website via the Inspire.Adobe site.

You can click on the link to watch the video here.

The Road Less Traveled

We often admire entrepreneurs, leaders who show courage and other risk-takers. Still, it takes gumption and grit to say “yes” instead of “no.” site

From the Die Line website

Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live?


It’s a lot easier to look back at your life and evaluate your decisions than be standing at a crossroads and know which way to turn. As I told my kids growing up, it’s more important to make a decision. If it turns out not to be a good choice, then you can correct it with another decision. I’ve also found that taking the hard road, embracing the difficult route that causes you to stretch and push your comfort level, yields a more satisfying outcome. Yes, you may stumble, make mistakes and perhaps fail. But echoing Debbie Millman, how else do you learn and grow?

I’ll let Robert Frost make the final argument:


Robert Frost from the Heavy Laden Bookshelf website

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Have you faced similar issues or choices? What’s your experience? Leave a comment and let me know.


Hilary Lister: Profile in Courage


Hilary Lister, sailor photo from YachtPals site

Hilary Lister, photo from YachtPals site

Who is Hilary Lister? For some, a woman determined to follow her dreams. For others, one of the world’s great sailors. She sailed solo across the English channel and then solo 3000 miles around Great Britain. Oh, and she did it without the use of her arms and legs.


Photo from YachtPals site

A biochemist and musician, her illness left her trapped at home until a friend introduced her to sailing… and despite the challenges, it quickly became her passion. As her husband says, Hilary is “not a lady you say no to.”


Photo from Hilary Lister’s website


People joke that when I’m on the water, I’m part cyborg, because I kind of become part of my boat, and my boat becomes part of me. It’s just that incredible freedom that I lost completely… gosh, now we’re talking nine or ten years ago, and I never thought I would find again. So to have that back – to have that control over my life back – is such an incredible buzz, that every time I come off the water, whether I’m cold and wet, or it’s a warm sunny day and I’ve just been having a great time, I’m high as a kite!

Hilary Lister

Photo from Hilary Lister’s website

This courageous woman is profiled in “Hilary’s Straws,” a very moving piece by Phil Cox and Lisa Cazzato Vieyra. The three minute profile was created for the Focus/Forward series on innovative people.


Phil Cox

I was enchanted by their lyrical sensibility and gift for storytelling. With Phil as Producer/Director, part of what makes the video work so well is the way it’s shot and edited by Lisa.


Lisa Cazzato Vieyra

I’ll talk more about that after you have a chance to look at the piece. Now that you know a little about Hilary, check out “Hilary’s Straws.” As you watch, think about how it’s put together… about what’s included and what’s left out.

Hilary’s Straws | Phil Cox from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

I like the way the piece opens. Most of the video is shot in tight closeup with just the natural sound ambiance. As the visuals give a flavor of her home environment, the swaying leaves and rising steam suggest movement and the lure of a gentle breeze. Everything seems cozy at first, as we see Hilary sipping from a straw. Did her head just bang on the wall? Why do these people hover around her? We sense something is off-kilter, but we’re not quite sure. When we’re finally tight on her face, we hear her thoughts and begin to understand. The stage is set and the filmmakers have peaked our curiosity.

I especially like the way the visuals reveal part of the action, but conceal as well. They add mystery and preserve dignity in a gentle approach that’s lyrical and subtle. We see people helping move and position her but we don’t dwell on her affliction.


Photo from YachtPals site

Good editors work by feel, using sound and images to build the scene. Yes, as you edit you think about what you’re doing, but you also make choices based on how the shots play from one to the next. You work with your intuition.

As the filmmakers counterpoint movement with her stillness, the airy surroundings make her home both refuge and prison. We witness her daily confinement and inspiring optimism as she explains her condition, not with sadness, but offering a big smile.

We visit the workshop and see people making things. We know they’re crafting solutions to help her, but nothing is explained. Kudos to the filmmakers for having the sense to show, not tell. Hilary gives us enough of an explanation when she says “technology, when you’re disabled, becomes incredibly important… but at the same time, it kind of traps you… as you end up never leaving the house.”

Then comes an important turn. “If you’re brave enough to make it your own, like the straw system we’ve built, technology can set you free.” And with that, we’re plunged into her excitement and exhilaration as she gets out on the water.


From Hilary’s site

 Yes, what she’s accomplished is truly amazing. You can only be inspired by her grit and courage. I like this film because it reveals her story in a way that is so uplifting. With their poetic approach, the filmmakers help you feel what Hilary is feeling… for a few moments you experience her excitement and joy… what it means to be free.


Photo from Hilary’s site

In an interview, Hilary says, “I don’t believe in things being impossible.” Seeing her, you believe it too. That’s the gift she has to offer. As for the filmmakers, they’ve shown us the real power of video – that it helps you experience the world from another person’s vantage point. And being able to walk a few steps in their shoes can take you quite a distance.