Recovery from failure…
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.