Every once in a while, I publish a failure report, outlining ways that I’ve failed (and what I’ve learned from them) since the last month, in my past, etc. These may be failures that I brought upon myself, or circumstantial, but the message is the same: we all experience failure and setbacks. What we do after the failure is what matters.+ + +
"You'll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, how much more enjoyable it is to win. It's inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it." –Henry Skinner
+ + + Late last year, I stumbled into an amazing bit of success. If you don’t know, I love board games, and have been learning all I can about being a board game designer by interviewing game designers at andhegames.com. One of my favorite games is Pandemic, which is a tense co-operative board game by Matt Leacock. I make a mini parody version of Pandemic, and I requested the blessing of the publisher to release it as a fan project, even though I didn’t technically need their permission (parody being protected by law, etc.). The publisher wrote back to me with notes on the game by Matt Leacock himself.
So, that was pretty cool.
We worked back and forth for a while, the publisher talking about publishing my parody game, and Matt giving me notes and play testing for me. It was tremendously exciting. I hadn’t been actively seeking a publisher, but having one fall in my lap was totally OK with me. I knew that there would be too much money involved, but it was a privilege to work with Matt, and learn more about the publication process.
I also felt a high level of validation. It’s difficult to admit to myself that I’m still an insecure little kid inside sometimes, but when someone looks at my work and tells me that it’s good, I feel the warmth that only comes from a piece of my personality that I hold very dearly being validated. I had struggled so long on many different business ideas, that this just felt like the pieces were finally falling in place. I, like many people – especially male people – derive a good chunk of my self worth from my work, for better or worse, so I was feeling really good.
Look at me, I’ve been designing games for 6 months, and I already have a publisher. Boom.
I held off telling my family until Christmas, even though this was going down many months before: I wanted to wait until I was reasonably sure that this was really happening. I had to bite my tongue many times in the months before Christmas, because that little kid in my head was jumping up and down, so excited to impress his Mom and Dad, and his older brother. The kid still thinks that my successes will make me better loved by the people around me. Silly kid.
Anyway, I smugly let it slip that I was designing a game with an amazing game designer, and basked in the radiance of my success. I don’t believe that I’ve felt that good in a long time.
+ + +
Well, shortly after Christmas, there was a long silence from the publisher. I was nervous, but I kept sending notes and kept play testing.
Then it happened: “Sorry, this doesn’t fit our needs”, or some variation of the rejection slip. This wasn’t a life-rocking blow – the publishing deal had fallen into my lap, and fallen out again – but I still felt quite deflated.
I had no idea why it fell through.
- - -
There are a lot of lessons that people learn from failure, but many of them seem to be destructive, terrible messages. Here are a few destructive beliefs that I’ve taken away from failure at times:
+ I’m no good.
+ I shouldn’t try that hard again.
+ I am a failure.
+ The system is rigged against me.
Yeah, those are bad lessons to learn.
+ + +
I’ve failed so much that even though I still take an emotional hit when I do, I’ve learned a few things about myself, and about failure. Sooner or later, I have to pick myself up and remember these truths, constructive lessons from failure:
+ That project may not have been good enough, but I can try again.
+ I should try harder next time.
+ I failed in that situation, but I’m not a failure.
+ Something went wrong, maybe something outside my control. This has zero effect on my next effort.
Don’t get the impression that these are what was going through my head when I got that rejection e-mail. I was angry, hurt, insecure, and kind of low. But now that I'm a few months out from the rejection, and moving towards my next goal, I can look back and redefine the failure as a learning experience.
What have you failed at recently? How are you moving past it?