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.
Running a business means that you always have an endless amount of work to do, if it’s not replying to client emails, it’s balancing the books or working on new designs, and if it’s not that then it’s planning the days ahead or doing marketing.
It can sometimes seem overwhelming, but I’ve grown accustomed to it and I thank God that I love doing most of it or else I would have gone postal a long time ago and buried myself in a tub of cookies and cream.
Why does productivity matter?
Despite that, love for my work doesn’t change the fact that there is always a load to do, therefore being effective while I’m doing it makes sense — you get the work done quicker, more accurately or creatively which allows you to either move onto another task, or simply have more free time.
Why does everyone need to work from 9–5?!
Enter the typical work day for most people, the 9–5 monster…I just don’t think it works that well. It’s a dated, blunt force, dinosaur of a tool imposed on a highly non-homogeneous populace. Each of us have our individual body cycles, some prefer to work early in the day, others later in the day, some of us late at night while everyone else is asleep.
You don’t work at a constant rate unless you’re dead…
Personally, I have always found it extraordinarily difficult to remain at near full productive capacity for the duration of the 8 hour work day, it simply stretches far too long without a chance to recharge somewhere in the middle.
My productivity cycle dictates that for the first 4 hours of the day, from 9am-1pm, I am generally awake, firing on all cylinders and burning through my work. Come lunch time however and this slows to a crawl as my stomach is busy digesting food and I am working at half mast. My eyes are droopy, I’m on autopilot trying to stay awake and hoping my slurred speech doesn’t make people don’t think I’m high on drugs. Later on in the afternoon though, I get a second wind and I am often working up to 12am or later the next morning.
Lots of people follow a similar pattern, but due to their salaried employee status, sustained productivity isn’t a huge concern for them. As a freelancer who gets paid per hour however, this is a huge concern because ineffective time really is very costly.
This is where powernaps come into the picture…
Being fully aware of this surge-lull-surge in productivity during the day, rather that fight it, I’d prefer to flow with it. I’ve adopted somewhat of a bi/polyphasic sleeping pattern (as opposed to a monophasic sleeping pattern that most adhere to) now that I also live with a partner who has a different work schedule from myself.
I go to sleep relatively late as I enjoy the peace and quiet and can get a lot of my art done during the night / early morning. Then I usually awake around the same time as my partner, which would mean I don’t get the regular 8 hours sleep. I work till around lunch time when I will either go to the gym first, or have lunch and an afternoon powernap for about 25 minutes.
After the power nap, it almost feels like a second morning and this will help to fuel me through to another 6+ hours of work if I need to. On particularly long days, I will sometimes take two power naps spaced about 6 hours apart, and I judge the necessity to do so based on my clarity of thought.
This simple addition of power napping during the day helps me immensely, I’m able to learn more, be more productive around the clock and achieve more during my waking hours. If you’re a uni student or someone who simply has a lot of activities outside of the 9–5 day, try giving powernaps a go, they may just be what you need to get more out of each day.
If you try it out, let me know how you go with it in the comments
Keep kickin’ ass.
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.
I tend to think a lack of business skills on the part of creatives, devalues the entire industry more than any other factor.
Because creatives have no idea how to charge, no idea how to establish their worth in the minds of clients and thus no commercial back bone, we collectively suffer as an industry.
Here is a lament I often hear from other creative types:
“Clients are so dumb! They completely undervalue my work!”
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.
The deadline looms, you’ve been playing with yourself incessantly for the last week and a half and due to prevailing factors that are now outside your control, it is time to pull your finger out of your cornhole and get some work done.
Due in 24 hours and if successfully completed this project promises fame, fortune and a trophy wife with the mental capacity of a squirrel. On the flipside, if you slip up, leaving your client in the lurch, your reputation plummets like a stone and more than likely, you’ll be on the corner selling your body for cashola in no time.
This kind of situation sucks and causes much unnecessary stress. I’d prefer to save my aggravation to spend on my favourite UFC fighter when he gets his talented ass KOed due to chronic partying and not taking his job seriously.
Assuming you’re given sufficient time to do a good job, and the monetary reward is fair, you should never have to be in such a position, but we often are due to a lack of focus.
If you don’t want to crunch, if you want to come out at the end of a project looking like a star, if you want to put your best foot forward so that you can move onto bigger and brighter things, FOCUS is one of the defining factors that sorts the men from the boys or women from the girls.
I recieved a fantastic response from Jazz and decided to reply in a new post as I think a lot of the points he/she brings up are valid. Although I rebutted some of Jazz’s assertions, I don’t necessarily think my responses are better or worse. My responses conform to my mentality and Jazz’s conform to his/her own mentality.
Being on staff really is quite an exciting place to be early on in your career, you get to see how things work up close and person and you are privy to how people interact and behave around others.
Having been there, let me offer some suggestions of things you may want to keep in mind if you’re looking to fast track your career up the ladder.