Despite my relative youth (yeah…I’m still clinging tenaciously to the final year of my twenties…), I’ve faced and tasted failure many times in my life, sometimes by my own hand, sometimes at the hand of others. I’m better off for it.
Don’t get me wrong — it is never pleasant, it takes the shine off your day, it brings you face to face with your limitations and crashes you into the dirt with disappointment, the danger being that if you stay there long enough, you’ll never fly again. I’ve seen it time and time again, in friends, in family, people who have traded in lofty dreams for mediocrity. That type of existence is not for me and chances are it’s not for you either.
The encouraging thing is that if you face failure well, it is only a toilet break on the long ass road trip we call life.
This post is a record on how I face failure. If you’re feeling discouraged, I sincerely hope this post helps to put you back on track.
Have I done okay? By who’s standard?
Before I talk about recovering from failure and then going in the opposite direction — success, I suppose it would be useful to figure out if I am successful or not. Hmm.
So, thinking back to when I was growing up, I recall I was a solitary creature who loved being alone and the thing I loved doing the most while I was alone was drawing stuff — monsters, cars, robots, babes, etc. I loved the fumes of my mediums, the silence, the lack of interruptions, just me and my imagination.
Looking back, I think it was pretty clear what my life’s direction was and deep down, I guess I just knew I wanted to make art and to create a life that supported this endeavour. I know I didn’t want to work a day job to fund my art life, I wanted it to pay for itself.
Lets snap forward to the present — my day typically consists of getting paid well to draw and paint in my pajamas while listening to music, engaging in afternoon naps, playing video games, reading cool books and blogging.
Judging from my personal checklist of what I’ve wanted out of life, I’ve guess I’ve done okay for myself. If I judged my life on the criteria of a successful patent lawyer however, this may be another story. On this basis, I’m sure you can determine how much you want to trust my advice or ignore it.
Failure…what the heck is it?
For me, the definition of failure is when you look to achieve an outcome and you (or you and your team) come up short.
Where I’ve failed.
- I’ve studied the wrong things and spent a buttload of my working years climbing a ladder resting on the wrong wall.
- I haven’t followed through on my bold promise to deliver an art team’s vision and workload on time and at the quality level promised.
- I’ve failed time and time again to make my voice heard when it could have made a difference.
- I’ve alienated friends and created enemies when there was no need to.
- I’ve under delivered to clients because of a failure to take everything into account.
- I’ve given up when the final leg of the marathon was in striking distance because I feared the inevitable judgement at the end.
- I’ve placed trust in people my gut instinct told me not to.
- I’ve compromised my own morals.
- I’ve allowed relationships to carry on for longer than their expiry date.
- I’ve placed being liked ahead of being effective.
- I’ve wasted time and opportunities looking for alternatives when I had what I was looking for all along, right in front of me.
- I’ve missed on deadlines, styles and execution.
- I’ve blamed circumstances and I’ve blamed other people for things that didn’t go right.
- I’ve over committed to projects.
- I’ve cared too much.
- I’ve cared too little.
- I failed to inspire.
- I’ve been too harsh.
- I’ve been too soft.
These are just some of the things I have failed at and regretted. I’ve felt low because of them, I’ve wanted to run away, to hide in dark corners, allow the world to turn on without me. It’s no understatement that I am not perfect, where I’ve faulted in the past was either absolving myself of blame or beating myself up mentally to the point of being an extra on a Romero zombie flick.
I think this is how a lot of other people also deal with failure.
Part of the solution for moving on, is to recognise that most things are not forever, they don’t necessarily need to stay “failed”. Always aim for that elusive perfection, with the full knowledge that you will seldom achieve it. And don’t beat yourself up over it.
How does it make you feel?
Failure in any endeavor, will usually do one of three things to you — it will either make you feel nothing; it will make you feel pissed off; or it will make you feel like tucking your tail between your legs and whimpering in the corner.
I know because I’ve felt all three at different times, so lets talk about picking up and moving on.
Getting past it…
Feeling indifferent and apathetic towards failure means that you will neither learn or grow from it. It signals that you have lost the passion for something or never had it in the first place. It always strikes me as absolutely batshit insane that the majority of people I meet tolerate a mediocre career, marriage and existence without a plan on how they are going to improve things.
The solution is to find something or someone else to care about or to discover a way to reignite the passion lost. Where there is no emotion, you can never hope to achieve great things. As Elie Weisel once said:
Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.
The second feeling, where you feel pissed off, for me at least has always shifted me into over-drive. If someone proclaims I’m not good at something I want to be good at, DAMN them to hell, I’ll show that they’re wrong. I won’t argue or bitch or moan, I will simply clam up in my fortress of solitude and push past my boundaries so that at some point I will be able to say “In Your FACE!”
I’ve found that if it is harnessed the right way, angry energy is an extremely powerful driver for me. Part of my competitive nature I guess. The trick is not to let it overtake you, being a perpetually angry person sucks.
The final feeling you may experience when you fail, is one of shame, you can’t believe it happened and you go over it in your mind, turning the past over and over again — how could something go so wrong?
Self blame is typical at this stage, and if left to fester, it can really hamper progress in your life. You need to have a heart to heart with your inner self, figure out how much was your fault, how much was beyond your control and how to not only avoid the same pitfalls in the future, but how to come out on top.
Reading the book The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar, an incumbent old hand in silicon valley, brought into focus the fact that failure rates are high in his cutting edge game changer world, but that it has been past failures that have allowed him and others like him the most growth opportunities.
I played the self blame game for a looong time after I left Interzone games, it damn near made me quit art altogether, down in the dumps, no one to turn to for help, I had to rebuild myself from ground zero, go back to my roots, my driving factors to see if they were still there. They were, but I had to do some serious soul-searching and re-configure my mind before I even picked up a pencil again.
It can take time…a lot of it, but this introspection is worth it, and in my opinion, absolutely critical in not having those same issues speed bump you in future endeavours. Once I put my demons to rest and plotted my new direction, exciting things happened so quickly within those next 6 months it was breathtaking, but I would not have gone there if I hadn’t been through that prior failure and learned their lessons well.
Where to now?
Whichever reaction you initially experience, there will be a point at which you reach a convergence — as in each of these paths will lead to a singular point. At this singular meeting point is where you decide what happens next, do you boldly try again? Do you retreat temporarily and then try a different path? Do you surrender? Or do you stand still while the weeds grow all around you?
Only you can answer this one, so dig deep but remember this: make your next way-point meaningful, or your failure will have been for naught.
Aude Aliquid Dignum — Dare Something Worthy
Although I enjoy and appreciate what I have, in keeping with the personal dictum that human potential is near limitless, I will always endeavor to push on to greater heights as I believe most people should. In doing so however, in pushing boundaries and frontiers, part of the bargain is that at any moment, whether from lack of calculation or circumstances outside our controls, we can fail at the things we set out to do. The less defined the path, the higher the risk potential for failure and only you can decide if the downside is worth it.
I personally think it is tragic when dreams are subjugated to the fear of possible failure. We as a species have the unique ability to manifest abstract thought and to bring about its physical equivalent through concerted effort. Using our mental capacity to accept, learn from and move past failure is a big part of this whole business of defining a life rather than living by default.
As I leave you, let this great quote by Abraham Lincoln underpin your actions today:
You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish, if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose. — Abraham Lincoln
Catch you on the flipside.
The title of this post is obvious as hell. No shiz, thanks for telling me…but you know what? Obviousity (new word I made up) means nada without constant repetition and acting in accordance with “widely accepted truths”.
Reading is good for your brains, spend less than you earn and invest the rest is smart, eating a box of chocolates ain’t the best for your waistline — these things are all obvious, but seldom practiced by the majority of people. These are some of the reasons why first world country trends means we’re becoming fatter, poorer in savings and stupider in general.
Why did I just mention all that? Maybe to placate the inevitable “Well that seems obvious, I don’t know why it needs mention”. The answer, is because sometimes we all need to be reminded of simple truths to reignite good intentions we have allowed to atrophy.
First, you need to ignore the bloody problem…
The way we have been conditioned to think in this day and age (through mass media) is that the problem is the be-all end all, it is the point to be focused upon, it is in vogue to bitch and moan and tell everyone how much things suck.
Whoa is me!!! If I complain to enough people, maybe someone else will join in with me and we can engage in a pity party hug puddle.
Tut tut, pity is the province of those who think the world owes them a living. The world owes you, me and everyone else, nothing.
What is the outcome? You fuck yourself in the ass, that’s what.
The end result of focusing exclusively on the problem will be this — you surround yourself with equally unhappy individuals, the problem is placed on a pedestal before which you all worship and before long it becomes the all consuming thing at the forefront of your mind and you’re not a single step closer to alleviating it.
It’s poisonous and you need to stop it in it’s tracks the minute you become aware of it.
No if’s or buts, if you want to achieve great things in your life, you need to overcome this monumental yet largely invisible problem.
Defeat those mental naysayers. Develop your own personal mind guard.
We moan and bitch because we allow the negative part of our brain to take over, it’s like the little negative devil that sits on your shoulder telling you that you’re no good, or that you’ll never amount to anything, etc.
What you need is your own personal mind guard, a protector shrouded in titanium armour forged in the blood of a thousand Viking men and inscribed with powerful ancient ass kicking Sanscrit from the fourth apocalypse.
The following used to be the conversation I’d have in my head that I’d have with myself, my devil naysayer is called Demon Face and my kick ass protector is called Charlie Sheen:
Demon Face: Jesus Christ, I can’t draw for shit. I’ve been at this for over 2 hours and all I’ve got to show for it is a half assed mess on the screen, oily hand marks on my Cintiq and an ass callus from hell. Why can’t you get your finger out of your puckered asshole and get some real work done?
Charlie Sheen: Because you filthy son-of-a-bitch, this is what the initial stages of artwork look like, and if you don’t like it, you can go sit in the corner and suck on your thumb for a while and cry me a river. If you’d rather stay, shut your mouth and stop your sissy ass whining, or I will curb stomp you, then kick you in the balls.
These days, Demon Face don’t utter much, ’cause he’s in the gutter, puking up blood while Charlie wails on him with a broken champagne bottle.
You must protect your psyche, your drive and your direction because if you don’t, it will be fragile and your resolve will shatter at the slightest of provocations.
It can be the difference between a life squandered and one that is not.
Ignoring the problem is only one half of the equation. Now, you have to think about the solution.
You can’t just empty your mind of problems, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t be not-troubled any more than you can’t be not-hungry…unless you’re dead or delaying the inevitable that it will come back to bite you squarely in the ass.
You must fill the new void.
If you do not focus your mind on something more productive, it will naturally lapse back into negative thought patterns. Nope, you have to pre-occupy your mental gymnastics with how you will tackle the problem, aka The Solution. That is where your focus and energies should be channeled.
So the next time you’re landed with a problem, remember to stop the bitchin’ and start the solvin’.
If you’re keen on seeing how I typically solve problems, check out this prior series of posts:
Keep whippin’ Demon Face’s ass, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.
In the last seven years of my creative career, I have witnessed first hand the imploding of just about every single company I have worked for, so that makes it about seven or eight companies in the span of those seven years.
Is it because I have some kind of corporate death touch? Well, I have no idea, but it sure sounds like a good basis for a Bruckheimer movie with lots of explosions and nonsensical dialogue.
The reasons behind business failure are numerous…in fact, far more numerous than I have the space or mental reserve for in this blog post, so I’m just going to give that topic a wide berth.
You know what irks me?
When someone does something worthwhile, and others are moved to go up to them and say “I should do <insert whatever that person knows they should be doing but aren’t…>”
What in the hell are they waiting for?! A sign from the Gods?
If you want to do it, then do it.
Take some damned responsibility, use some initiative and go do something concrete to make it happen…or bury it because no one wants to hear about what you “should” be doing any more than they want to hear about your anal warts.
Harsh I know, but sometimes so is the truth.
It is almost 11pm on a Thursday.
It is another cold Melbourne night and I sit here again in my warm little home studio at my keyboard compelled to write while the tree outside my window plays tag with the wind.
I wanted to write now while my emotions are still fresh.
I have spent the last two hours relaxing from my hectic work schedule, watching a relatively old film — Dead Poet’s Society, which I have been told many times is fantastic, but never got around to viewing until tonight.
Unabashedly speaking, I cried while watching it.
I’ve noticed that a lot of folks who seem to do the most remarkable things (like Reinhold Messner for example, the first person to climb all 14 of the world’s peaks taller than 8000m) were actually just trying to understand their own limits and themselves.
Inspiring as hell, Christ, I get tinglies just looking at this:
When someone of their own free will comes to me with a question that will potentially shape a large part of their life or help them to choose a path to travel, I consider it a real honor. So I do my best to give them an authentic point of view that is my own, as opposed to a lukewarm limp wristed politically correct answer. It may grate some people, but I am unapologetic about it.
That isn’t to say I tell them they have to do anything I talk about — that they must do this or else they will fall into a pit of acid and go to hell. That’s not what I’m about.
So, I’ve been sleeping at odd hours, usually around 3am in the morning for the last week and this is down to my rekindled love affair with creating artwork. A few times I have also woken up only a couple of hours later to keep on going.
Keep in mind these are not client projects but personal ones I’m working on, which I’ve always found harder to commit to than paying gigs!
I notice that usually accompanying this mix of sleep deprivation and insane levels of inspiration to create, my mind races a fair bit more to work out some truths and be more philosophical…okay, maybe that’s being a bit presumptuous and pompous…my mind retrospectively states the obvious in a more succinct manner.
One of my blog readers (hey Andrés!) is in the process of learning about artwork and some of the things I have previously mentioned spiked his interest.
Interestingly, they are more generalised skills in the area of time management, scheduling and discipline, applicable in any field as opposed to art-centric skills.
I promised him that I would write a blog post about these topics and thought “Well, since they are all inextricably linked, why not write a single post about them?”
After being in business for myself for the last 8 months, I can honestly say that I don’t ever want to go back to a staff job again, I absolutely love running my business, doing the work that I do and the flexibility that goes along with it.
I think above all, however, the feeling of being able to provide for myself without the need for an ongoing employer is an absolutely amazing feeling and has definitely imbued me with a great sense of confidence, worth and control over my own life, since everything I do directly affects my viability as a business.