I’m an optimist by way of pessimism. I always expect the worst to happen, and then am consistently surprised when I don’t explode into a ball of flaming gas. But I’m used to failure, it’s pretty much how I’ve learned everything in life.
“Don’t touch that, it’s hot.” Ow.
“Don’t quit field hockey.” I joined the Debate Club. Great decision.
“Don’t date the first guy who tells you you’re pretty.” Big mistake.
I want to talk about failure, and how it can be a positive force in life. How it’s terrible and soul crushing when it’s happening and directly afterward - but how we can take that, see what we did wrong and how, and learn to improve.
And I’m going to talk about this in simple terms: video games.
I was pretty good at World of Warcraft. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I was actually really damn good. And I didn’t get this way by telling everyone how good I was or bragging about how I was “The Best Damn Rogue On The Server.” No.
I got good at World of Warcraft by comparing my performance only to my own previous performances and doing research every week. Was there a better way to maximize my output with better button mashing (rotation) than I’d used last Friday? Were there any tricks I could do on this boss at certain points that would give me a huge damage increase (DPS Boost)?
Why did I do this? Because my friends wanted me to play with them, and I wanted to play with them. And we wanted to do bigger, better and harder content and in order to do that, I wanted to be at the top of my game. It didn’t matter who was the best on the server, or which Rogue could beat which other Rogue in damage on what boss. It only mattered how good I was to my team and whether my success allowed us to proceed further.
Thing is, I sucked a lot before I got good, or great. I had to have a couple of things besides just wanting to play with my friends to get me to do this hour or so of research every week. To get me to push myself to try harder and compare my numbers. To get me to maximize what I could do.
I had to be the Worst Rogue On The Server for a while. I had to be trying to tell people how to do things like the absolute non-expert I was, doling out bad advice to anyone who chose to listen. I had to have the worst armor, the crappiest weapons, the most awful build. I had to use all the wrong moves at all the wrong times, and I did this for years all because I thought it was okay, because I was just getting by. I was doing the bare minimum. And then when someone came around to correct me, I had to be open minded enough to hear what they had to say.
BECAUSE UNTIL THEN WASN’T IMPORTANT TO ME.
Which brings me to Point Number One - Is this important to you?
If the answer is yes, you are going to want to stop not doing The Thing you want to do. You are going to want to stop failing at change. Don’t look at the future at all the things you could potentially have if you started doing The Thing. This is a long-term goal, and you haven’t even taken the first step. You could be a superstar artist. You could stop taking your blood pressure medication. You could make $10,000 more a year, or more! Fantasies are great. But they’re only that - fantasies.
Instead of fantasizing about all the things you could have if you started doing The Thing, think instead about rearranging your priorities to make The Thing more than an idea. What out of your life can you move aside to make failure into a success?
To do this, think about motivation - motivation will spurn reorganization of priorities. If you’re concerned you’re not tapping into creative potential, think about what motivates you to be creative, and work that into your priorities. Do you have two hours three days a week to paint? What will motivate you to paint? These things go hand in hand. Especially when you think: What is keeping you from painting now?
This is where video games come back in. When I decided I wanted to write my novel, I was still working my job as a social worker at the hospital, second shift. Before I started it, I would come home, play video games every day after work for 2-4 hours, and go to bed. But I wanted to write this novel. I had a goal - motivation - to get it done before I am 40 (I still have a year and a half to go). So, instead of coming home and playing video games five days a week, I came home and Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, wrote for 3 hours after work, and played games Tuesdays and Thursdays - priorities.
This continued until late June when I was declared no-longer able to work, and I moved that discipline to writing 4 and eventually 5 days a week, 4-6 hours a day in the afternoon. This became habit, and I’m on the 3rd Draft of the novel, and have written 14 short stories (one of which has been published) and a personal essay (also published).
I had to cut out something I previously loved and spent a lot of time doing in order to achieve a goal I really wanted. I now play video games Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for 2 to 3 hour sessions in the evenings. And only to role-play. Sometimes though, James and I will both actually knock out some game content together. My priorities have shifted due to my motivations.
(I also had to severely fail my own expectations when writing the 1st and 2nd drafts at that novel to learn what I really wanted it out of the 3rd, and perhaps 4th and 5th drafts.)
If The Thing is not important to you. If you find yourself only able to fantasize about it, but nothing about The Thing motivates you or gets you to set any short-term or long-term goals, now might not be the right time to start shifting priorities. You can shift priorities and force The Thing, especially if The Thing is requested by a close friend or family member, and super-especially if it’s harming your health or the health of others, but failure will come chasing close on your heels if you don’t find your own motivation in there somewhere.
But still, if you fail at The Thing, look back on why you failed. What happened to make you not do The Thing the way you wanted to do The Thing? What was missing out of priorities and motivation? Or was The Thing just not that important to you? Why? Maybe it is important to you, but not right at this very instant in your life. I wrote a 22 page zygote of my novel before I wrote the 350 page draft of it 2 years later. It was never dead, it just wasn’t being done right then.
There are keys in why you failed at what you want that will help you succeed next time. I’ll cover more points about this in future blog posts. Promise. Or maybe I’ll fail at it. But I’ll learn from that, and return eventually.