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.
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.
Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
– Bruce Mau (An incomplete manifesto for growth)
When you choose a life of growth, you have clearly decided that there is a point to get to, a place you desire to reach and a person you want to be.
You get what you are. Your life, your situation is a reflection of your abilities, your actions, your initiatives, your ideas and your execution within the overall mesh of everyone else’s actions. If you want a new experiences or success, you are going to have to do different things, uncomfortable things, things that will stretch you. These things will change you. As you face new challenges, you will learn new things about yourself, you will learn new things about this journey you are on. Things that interested you before will fade into the background. This thing will gradually become the only thing you’ll think about; from the minute you wake up until the moment you fall asleep.
You will want new things now; you will actually crave exercise and good food for the extra energy it give you. You will want to spend less time with certain people because well, things are different now. It will start a feedback loop that if you feed properly, can grow into an incredible force pushing you forward to heights and places you never imagined.
You will have to embrace this change. In fact, lean into it. You want certain things; you have to become the person who takes the action that gets you those things. You have to earn what you desire. The process of changing into this person is long, and full of twists and turns, but it is one heck of an adventure. And that is the most incredible part of this journey…becoming the person.
I heard the above quote from a Tai Lopez podcast sometime in 2015, and it stuck in my mind ever since. It even made it to the little pile of post-its I keep on my desk covered with odd notes and scribbles. It reminded of me something I heard Marc Ecko say back in 2012 – that the phrase ‘Artists and Instigators’ was a more apt way to describe what startups and entrepreneurs do. We get stuck sometimes on the nuts and bolts of creating businesses and launching brands, managing teams, balancing books, developing markets, we miss the essence of what these activities are, or what they should be. Which is making something we believe should exist to communicating an opinion, a point of view.
That is the true allure of being a designer for me. It is the chance to make something, the ability to offer my take / perspective on an idea, a product, a service, a business that wakes me up in the morning eager to get started.
I watched a talk by Sasha Strauss on ‘branding in the normal’ last week, and he so elegantly distilled the essence of what a brand is. As a matter of fact, the idea he put forward is the founding conceptual framework behind all the great institutions of our time – religions, nations, and so. The core of brand is this – there is the idea, and there is the belief around that idea. Religion has the idea that there exists a god or gods. The belief system in relation to this idea, i.e. how we interact with and behave because of this god or gods is what makes different religions appeal to different people. The Virgin Group takes on multiple markets and products but the core ideas are business, products, and services. Their belief is that business should be fun and that customer service is the most important thing a great company can have.
I don’t know what your motives are for getting into business if you are an entrepreneur, but the best businesses and the most creative works of art succeed because they have a point of view. There is something they believe in, and they stop at nothing to birth a world that expresses that. It might be in the way they treat the customer, it might be in the way they do business, but they believe something.
That goes double for the freelancer, the creative, the solopreneur. You got into this because deep down, you want to create a specific kind of life; you want to do something remarkable. You became an entrepreneur, to make something specific happen. There are a multitude of people doing the same thing you do – designing, writing, photography, coaching, etc. What will separate you from everyone else is the same thing that makes you unique. It is your DNA, it is your opinion, its your point of view, it is what you truly believe. Don’t hide away from it; don’t dumb it down to fit in. Embrace that and recreate the world in your image.
Where you are right now is important. This present moment is sacred because it is now. But this moment is just a moment and it is taking you somewhere. We are all walking our own paths. And these paths have destinations. If you want to succeed, you need to define the place you want your path to take you to. You must have a vision. This vision can be as small as you wanting to live a healthier life, or as big as wanting to impact an entire continent. But you need to have a clear vision of where you are going and be in it for the long haul.
Having a strong sense of who you are, where you are going and what your long game is, keeps you grounded. It keeps you from getting distracted by your present position. When things are going well, your vision keeps you focused on executing the day-to-day, it keeps you focused on the process. When things are going wrong, you hold fast to the vision, you adjust where needed, and you regroup if you need to. But you get back on the horse, you stay focused on the day to day, you stay focused on the process.
The road to success is not a straight path; it is never smooth sailing. The quest to manifest your vision will be filled with ups and downs. There will be mountains and valleys. You will get lost in the bushes and have to double back. You will face intimidating obstacles. But no matter where you are in the journey – on the mountaintop or in the valley, your trajectory is more important than where you are right now.
So don’t be discouraged if your reality hasn’t caught up with your dreams yet. Sometimes reality takes a while to catch up. You have to be patient and wait for your actions to compound. In the mean time, breathe and enjoy this moment. Keep putting in the day-to-day work. As long as you are moving in the right direction, you are doing great. You are making time work for you. In a few months, years, decades, you will have exactly what you want. You just need to hold on to the vision and keep taking right action.
In 2010, I decided to take the plunge and start freelancing, taking on design jobs wherever I could find them. In seven years that have passed, I had the pleasure (and occasional displeasure) of working with all kinds of people. I have held jobs, I have started things with friends, I have consulted with and for companies. Its been wide and varied, a lot of work but mostly fun. There are three distinct characters I have encountered in business, and at some time or the other, I have also been any one of these three.
Ah the Chancer, you starry eyed fuck. This person is entering the equation with a whole lot of luck. They don’t really know what they are doing. They just want to make money. They are winging it, swinging for the fences with eyes wide shut hoping, praying to connect. The Chancer goes for a presentation with a big client not knowing what the hell his story is and what he is hoping to accomplish. The Chancer usually has no actual technical skill or knowledge or lay of the land. They don’t even do their research. They rely on their wits and bullshitting skills. You might be tempted to laugh, but hey, this person has balls, they take action, they are coming to the table.
The Hustler has a rough idea of what he is doing. He has a ton of energy. He is resourceful. He has had some measure of success, and is great at getting things done. The problem is, unless the hustler has incredible self-awareness and a plan, he is probably going to be stuck hustling forever. They keep running around in circles, jumping from thing to thing, making money, losing money, not really building anything. They tend to be opportunistic; exploiting whatever loophole they can to make money. It’s a jungle out there folks. Every now and again though, with growth and time, the hustler gets his act together and transitions to the next level.
The go-getter is rare, but they are incredible. They know they don’t know it all and so they work very hard at plugging the gaps in their knowledge. Their greatest gift is self-awareness. They know what they are good at, and what they know what they need help with. They know greatness takes time. They are big dreamers, focused on the big picture but are also knee deep in the dirt, measured and grounded in their goals and working systematically to achieve them. The go-getter is driven by a vision that is much bigger than just making money or being successful. They take pride in their work and are always prepared. They are passionate and are trying to change the world or at least make their corner of it a little better, a little brighter.
It goes without saying that in order of desirability, it goes ‘Go-getter’, – ‘Hustler’, -‘Chancer’. But in many cases, you would have to transition from one to the other. Especially if you are the gung-ho type, jump off the cliff and build those damn wings on the way down. It’s incredibly exciting and nerve wracking. You start off a novice with the audacity of dreaming to be a master one day. Some people don’t want to put the work and time in, they just want to jump to level 10, and so they will take chances. They will get themselves in over their head, they will 9 times out of 10 crash and burn (looking at you Ja Rule and the Fyre Festival debacle).
Over time, you get a little better and you become a hustler. You have a bit of confidence, a lil swagger in your step, some Jay-Z bumping in your headphones, you getting it, you making moves. Just don’t get stuck there. Sure you can sling (sell) this product or service just fine and you doing okay. But are you building fam? Are you working systematically and letting your moves stack up to you checkmating life and winning the game? If not, get it together, move to the next level. Become a Go-getter.