You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take
– Wayne Gretzkey
Success > Nothing > Failure
For most people the above is true. Success is better than failure, but failure is so bad, that doing nothing is preferable to losing. Sometimes this is true, there are failures that can be quite devastating. People make ill-advised investments or decisions and lose it all.
But for the most part, the cost of failure is a nothing more than a bruised ego and hurt feelings.
The fear of failure can be incredibly crippling. And this fear keeps us stuck and stagnant. Our upbringing and society conditions us and keeps us comfortable in our status quo. We value the safe, the tried and true. Schools actively discourage making mistakes and we go through life thinking we must always have the right answers. Religion keeps us thinking we have to be perfect all the time. The idea of failure and its subsequent fear has evolved over centuries into an intimidating spectre.
And so most times, we do nothing.
For some reason, we think that in doing nothing, we gain nothing and we lose nothing. The fearing of losing trumps any anticipation of winning. And this fear keeps us from starting businesses, from ending or starting new relationships, from taking chances. But if you stand still, you lose still. Because time does not stand still, it is unrelenting in its forward movement second after second. The window of opportunity to take action may only be open for so long.
Here is the simple truth – you will fail. Especially when you are doing something for the first time. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You failed multiple times in learning how to walk. You were a complete blabbering incomprehensible mess when you were a toddler. You didn’t care or give up then and decide that this walking thing wasn’t for you. Nah you kept plowing on. You, with your big ass head and stubby legs. You kept going and now look at you with your badass self walking around and conversing fluently like it ain’t no thing.
Big ups to you!
Now apply it to your life and your dreams too. You will try, you will fail, but most importantly you will learn. And next time you will be a little better, you will suck a little less. If you stick with the process, eventually, you will win.
Success > Failure > Nothing
Success is better than failure, but as bad as failure is, it is still better doing nothing.
So go ahead and try. And fail. And try. And fail…until you succeed.
I will not lose, for even in defeat, there is a valuable lesson learned, so it evens up for me.
– Jay Z
There is a powerful Ted Talk by Tim Ferris on fear setting, where he explores the idea of stoicism, and the practice of fear setting. In this exercise, you explore the worst consequences of failure, against the potential upside of success, against the inevitable results of doing nothing. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It will help you put your fears of failure in perspective and hopefully galvanise you to action.
Photo by Cris DiNoto on Unsplash
The thing about being creative types, philosophers and bohemians in a largely capitalistic world is that we are continually faced with the tension of expressing our art, our soul, our spiritual gift to the world while somehow finding a way to survive. Monetization (making money from our art) or subsidization (having someone else donate) becomes necessary at some point.
True, not everything needs to be monetized and we live in a real world of people and interaction on multiple layers – physical, emotional, and spiritual. Not everything can or should be reduced down to currency. However, if you are looking to monetize your passion, this as an incredibly useful way to look at it.
You have to attach something to the art – a product, a service or an experience.
I learnt this principle from Gary Vaynerchuk, watching one of his gazillion videos. He is talking to this young man who is riffing off about the things he wants to do, the heart behind his brand, and how much he wants to impact people and so on. To do this, he needs to find money to execute. In response, Gary asks if there is something tangible attached to it. If he wants funding, is there an object that can be invested in?
Having feel-good ideas are fun and wonderful. Talking about them and sharing them can be very enriching and fulfilling.
But if you are in business, especially if you are a mission-led business seeking to change the world, or an NGO tackling much needed social work on behalf of humanity, you must respect this principle. You have to clearly understand what your idea is – your goal, your purpose, your mission. And this idea must become tangible as product, service or experience.
You cannot ignore the laws of the market place, unless you plan to loot or steal the money. Think about the places your purpose and people’s desires/needs intersect, and play in that space. Connect your work to value in people’s lives.
As nice as it is to exist in our little creative bubbles indulging in artistic revelry, if we will succeed as artists or creatives, we must relax our romantic ideas of a utterly free rein creative life and link our art (the essence of our creativity and passion) to a tangible thing. Your art, your brand needs a vessel. Put your thing into a container that can be invested in or purchased.
Think about music. Musicians make music, and sell the recordings and merchandise (product), or sell skills (service) or shows (experience). There are multiple ways of creating tangible things that express your idea. Attaching your art to an object allows you to share the art. Now your audience can take with them a tangible piece or object that will bring them back to the heart of your art every time they interact with it in any way.
And that’s win-win all round.
There is only one success. To be able to spend your life in your own way.
– Christopher Morley
We are surrounded by success porn. From Facebook to Snapchat, the digital sphere is littered with quote cards spouting off generic success platitudes and motivation. You know the ones, the images of the suave guy in the impeccable suit and nice watch. Or the flawlessly shot Instagram gym model showing off her perfect abs and toned body.
I like to look at it as what I call ‘priming’. When I sit to design, one of the first things I do is to pull up my favourite sites and browse for inspiration. I spend time looking at beautiful things. It primes and stimulates my mind to think in the same vein as my inspiration and helps me know what my benchmark of quality should be.
That’s what success porn does, or should do. It is a burst of inspiration, a certain smug satisfaction, a ‘hell yeah! high five! let’s get it’ sort of moment. And it’s good. Sometimes you need that spark, that reminder.
The main problem with success porn is that you can get that hit of self righteous dopamine so many times that you begin to feel satisfied without actually doing any work.
It is easy to brainstorm, and research and learn. It makes us feel good, like we are taking actual steps. And granted, it is a first step in the process of getting what you want. But consuming content, no matter how good, whether it be Gary V or Tai Lopez or Grant Cardone or whoever your guru is, is not the same as doing the work.
The path to success is the steady consistent grind, the work, the fears, the tears. It is not as sexy as success porn, but it is the thing that actually produces results. And there are a lot of things unique to your circumstance that you would have to navigate with your own wits and common sense as well as all the tips and knowledge you have gained from your blogs, podcasts and videos.
The second subtler problem with success porn is the narrative that success looks a certain way. Success for millenials in general falls in the same boxes – a great job, a great startup, lots of money, gadgets, travel to exotic places, self care, romantic love and baecations. All of which are absolutely wonderful pleasures.
But the thing with life is…it is life. It is varied, it is complex and it is nuanced. Success has to be something you define for yourself. You don’t need to subscribe to an idea of success. You just have to find what you like, what you believe, what fulfills you and be committed in the pursuit of that. That is what success is.
Ever since the first cow was burned with a ‘brand’ so Joe could tell his herd from Peter’s, we have come to understand brand as promises and as signifiers of quality, of value, and of personality.
Interbrand outlines the various ages of brand here, with the first age being that of brand as identity. Brands existed to differentiate one product from another and show a level of quality and consistency. Then we moved on to the age of value, where brands sought to be more useful to consumers offering value beyond the product itself. For instance tire manufacturers Michelin published the Michelin Red Guide awarding Michelin stars to select restaurants and encouraging motorists to travel and explore, of course rolling on Michelins.
Over time brands have evolved to the point we are in now – brand as experience. In the words of Interbrand ‘Interactions (between brands and consumers) are seamless, contextually relevant and increasingly based around creating an ecosystem of integrated products, services, information, and entertainment.’ It has already begun shifting into the age of You – technology allows us leveraging network effects and creating very specific and unique experiences and connections with brands.
It is easy to understand the idea of brand as experience in the context of digital products. User Experience (UX) is the latest buzzword and a hot new design field on the block. We all engage with apps, social media platforms and software. We know how pleasant it is to use an app that is simple, intuitive, delightful and that helps us achieve our purpose for interacting with it. We also know how frustrating it is when a product doesn’t work well, when the app or program crashes, when you can’t figure out how to do the basic things. In a world where good user experiences are widely distributed and cheap to access, consumer expectations rise across the board to demand good user experience not just in digital products but also in real life interactions.
What does this mean for individuals, startups and small businesses looking to develop and grow their brands? Well its like Marty Neumeier said:
Brand is not what you say it is. It is what they say it is.
And what they (your customers and stakeholders) will say about you is based on their experience of your brand. You may have a brilliant logo, and a beautiful corporate identity, but if the process of engaging with your business, purchasing your service or receiving your expertise is disjointed, confusing or outright terrible then that experience defines your brand despite your best visual efforts. You have to think a lot about how your users/clients/customers connect with your brand.
Which brings us back to the idea of purpose. If you the entrepreneur are trying to create the world in your image – make a dent in the universe, change the way people do things. Then this purpose cannot just sit gathering dust in your mission and vision statement portion of your profile. It must be baked into the DNA of how you function and how you deliver to your customers. It must become a lived experience within the ecosystem of your brand.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but actions and experience are much much louder than words.
“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have ‘essential’ and ‘long overdue’ meetings on those days.”
– J.K. Rowling
I believe there is nothing more important than being creative (after food, shelter, etc.), and being creative for you. There are ideas placed in you that need to be birth, because doing so will give you experiences and gifts you could not otherwise comprehend, and they will touch the world in ways you could never imagine.
But the business of life can be very distracting. In between all the chores, the jobs, the social obligations and the daily hum of life, it is incredibly easy to lose yourself and your true desires. You hum along doing things and then you wake up with decades later wondering where all that time went and beating yourself up for actually accomplishing very little of your true goals.
I’ve had many creative ideas over the years – podcasts, books, clothing lines, stores, events, blogs, and magazines. It’s a long list I know, but not a lot of them have come to fruition. I hated that I would kick off the year with all these ideas and projects I wanted to get done, and then six months in I would be completely lost in the sauce, entirely busy working on clients or friend’s latest schemes, chasing down opportunities to make a buck. I was so consumed with everything else that I never pushed my projects forward enough.
To be honest, I did not understand what it took to get things done. But after multiple dead ends you start to learn a thing or two. For the past 10 months, I have been working consistently on my creative projects and pushing them towards completion. I know this is a long road, and its still early days, but I thought I’d articulate the mindset and tools that are enabling me to finally actually do the work I have in my heart to do.
- Stay awake
It is so easy to fall asleep behind the wheel of life. Urgent and pressing issues can crowd the truly important to the dark recesses of your mind to be randomly stumbled upon one day. You have to stay awake. And by that I mean you have to always be focused on your actual personal creative goals. It has to be a priority and something that is on your mind daily. Never lose sight of it. Write it somewhere you can see it, and engage with it every day.
- Think long term
Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your project. You have to be in it for the long haul. If you are trying to build a creative life that sustains your soul and your pocket, understand that it is going to take a while. Make peace with that.
- Focus on the process
If you are going to get any worthwhile creative work done, you have to respect the process. This is going to mean working on your projects daily or at least weekly. You are going to need to take consistent action over a long period of time – creating, learning, tweaking, editing, fixing, scrapping, restarting, etc. It’s a process; learn to enjoy it.
- Be realistic
There is nothing like ambitious timelines to excite you then ultimately defeat you in the creative journey. Be realistic with the amount of time you think it will take to get your project done, and then add more time to it. Things always take much longer than you’d expect.
- Protect your creative time and space
You absolutely must block off a portion of time for you to work on your things. That means phones off, Internet off, put on headphones, close the door. Deep creative work demands nothing less than your full attention and energy. That means being inaccessible sometimes and turning a blind eye to the other thousand things vying for your attention.
- Just make
As creatives we tend to be both very egotistical and fragile. We have high hopes and standards for our work. We wonder if people will like it, we fear being judged. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about the work. Right now, your job is to make! Focus on that.
Everything I have just said can be summed up in one word – Commit. To get your personal work done, you must commit to getting it done. That means making a firm decision to get it done no matter how hard or tough the road may be. It means discipline. It means giving up excuses and doing whatever needs to be done.