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The Power of Failure

I’m a failure.

You probably are, too. Admit it. Just say it out loud one time. Ping me on Twitter real quick and we can say it together:

“I’m a failure.”

Doesn’t that feel good? Feel a little bit less tension in your neck and shoulders? Maybe even feel a little more jazzed up about your day in general? Well, good! Keep that feeling and let me tell you why being a failure is actually pretty awesome.

First, let’s clear the air; I’m not saying that I’m a failure at my job right now. If I were a failure, I don’t think I’d be coming up on my five-year anniversary at WDS this August. This also isn’t a cry for pity or sympathy; I haven’t had a good old fashioned pity party since my high school goth days. I’ve since packed away the massive amounts of eyeshadow and hair dye I accumulated, but I like to think I kept some of the more important things with me (like my love of vampire-based roleplaying games, androgyny, and Bauhaus).

What I am saying, though, is that I’ve failed numerous times along the way to where I am right now. In fact, if I hadn’t experienced some of my more major failings I’m not even sure if I WOULD be where I am right now.

So, where did things go so wrong in order to wind up so right? Let’s start with the entrance into the grown-up workplace: graduating from college. I graduated from college with a degree in Audio-Radio and Digital Media Production. That’s basically a fancy way of saying I could make things that sounded nice and also run a radio station/show. Unfortunately, as my college career progressed I learned that modern-day radio was a lot of automation and that DJs weren’t really essential to the process anymore. Being a DJ was the most fun part for me, so this was a major bummer. Nonetheless, upon graduating from college, I attempted to nail down several jobs in and related to the radio business. Guess what? I failed.

mr-managerI wound up working in retail for a number of years. I spent a month at a grocery store wearing a button-up shirt that would always give me a rash, but I spent significantly longer working my way up to Assistant Manager at another retail establishment. It wasn’t fulfilling in the least, but I had a band and a group of friends to make short films and sketch comedy with so I wasn’t complaining too much. Soon, though, I felt the itch to get out (this itch much different from the itch I felt from the rashy grocery shirt).

With all the gusto I could muster, I decided this was the time to live my childhood dream and become a professional wrestler. I was going to move from Plattsburgh, NY to Bristol, PA to attend wrestling school. Fortunately, my retail job was a chain and had a location near the school I wanted to attend, and what’s more, they were going to make me Mr. Manager! In the weirdness of red tape and retail rules, I had to give my notice at my current job to officially transfer to the new job in the new state. So, I did that. Whoops.

Things didn’t go as planned. I scoped out some places to live but nothing “felt right.” And since it didn’t feel right and like I was making a rash (har har) decision, I decided to not move after all. That left me, however, still in upstate New York without a job. I had failed at leaving town and doing this thing I had always thought about.

Jobless for the first time since sophomore year, I was banging on every door I could to find a job. I worked in a kitchen for a weekend and even failed at getting paid for my work by the strange couple who ran the place. Then, one day, I started looking through the phone book for potential businesses who would want to hire me. I saw a listing for a printshop and decided to give them a call; after all, I was great with computers and had done some print design work in the past.

Lucky me, they had decided just that morning that they needed to hire a new print designer. I went in for an interview and had the job in a matter of days. Quickly, I was bumped up from part-time to full-time and thus began my career as a designer. Working at this printshop, and at the rival printshop I would defect to after a number of years, I was able to spread my wings creatively and even got the chance to work web design into my job.

Now, web design was nothing new for me. I had been making websites since I was thirteen; it’s just at this point I was making money for it and doing it as part of a career. I was also afforded the freedom to really do what I thought worked best and educate others on how the web worked and why we should move in certain directions.

More or less, that’s how I wound up here. I was able to spin my web and print design abilities into freelance work. That spin was able to move me to West Chester, PA, which is where I first saw a local listing for a job at WebDevStudios.

I had to face some pretty harsh realities on my way to this job. I had to fail at utilizing my degree out of college; I had to fail at breaking out of upstate New York; I also had to fail at some other things in life along the way that weren’t necessarily career-related but were at least tangentially-related to my career path. None of those failures, though, meant that I couldn’t get to where I needed to be. In fact, it was quite the opposite–all of those failures just pushed me to find what I wanted to do in life even more. Without failing at finding a job in radio, would I have succumbed to a life of retail? Without being worn down by the tedium of working in retail, would I have tried unsuccessfully to get out of town? And without quitting my retail job on the basis of hopes and dreams, would I have wound up in a printshop learning that I do have something to offer creatively?

Nobody can really know the answer to those questions, except for the different versions of me who exist in those separate timelines because, as we all know, time is really just a social construct and there are so many forks and versions of our lives that we’ll never again connect with. What I do know, though, is that failing along the way is what made me a better person today. My experiences made me unafraid to fail, because whatever happened was going to happen and I was going to deal with it no matter what. Certain things in this life are completely out of your hands, so what’s the point in even worrying about them? Why stress about things that are out of your control? That’s the methodology I adopted years ago and the one that still keeps me optimistic in the face of challenges to this day.

To wrap things in the web developer blanket, don’t be afraid to fail at your code before you push it to a live production site. Take chances when developing a site. Try new things. Not really sure how something works, but want to get an idea of it? The best way I’ve found is to dive head-first into it and see how badly you can break it, then work up from there. Don’t be afraid to make a bad decision in your CSS or JavaScript if it’s something new to you, especially if you have an amazing team of developers at your side who are going to lend their expertise and advice.

Everyone has been at the point where they are unsure of their code and want it to be better, but you’re not going to get better if you don’t challenge yourself, fail a little bit, and look for help and guidance when you need it. A lot of us may be working from home in our own little bubbles or freelancing as one-person operations, but that doesn’t mean we’re alone. There is a vibrant community out there just waiting to help those of us who are struggling so we can all be a little bit better at what we’re doing in the day to day.

So, what about you? How hard have you failed in order to get to the point in your life where you actually enjoy your job and your life in general? Shed the false shame of failure and embrace the failure you were in the past in order to become the success you are today.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Failure

  1. This totally resonated with me.

    I failed at getting into J-School in uni, never used my degree (Latin American studies!), aimlessly got a data/business analyst job out of college, eventually got laid off, and finally had a reason to pursue this design/web thing, which has been the first gig I’ve been really stoked about in the many years I’ve been out of school.

    So yay failure! It’s not so bad in the grand scheme of things.

    1. It’s terrifying having those moments where you’re without a job and absolutely NEED to find something, but the nice thing is that those moments can sometimes drive you to find the thing you want to do rather than just the thing you have to do.

      Kudos on your up-failing!

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