A writer I follow, Yuvi Zalkow, is promoting his book this week, and he issued a challenge of sorts for other writers and creators to share their stories of fear and failure as he girds himself for the reviews and sales figures. Normally, I don't actually follow writing challenges, but I figured that the concepts of fear and failure are already talked about on this site enough that you wouldn't mind or even notice.
I thought about some of my failures. My first website that I built for a paycheck was a total failure. It never launched, so I can't point to an archive, but I will tell you that it involved the background image of a beach and small stones that were used for navigation with rollover effects in all their mid-2001 DHTML glory. It was horrible, and I honestly thought it was “groundbreaking”. When I fully realized how unusable and uninspired it was, I questioned if I had any right to build websites at all.
If I'm being completely honest, the first year or so of Vintage 56 was a year of bigger failures. The company survived, so the year itself wasn't a total failure, but I know that my part in it involved lots of medium-sized failures. I wasn't a good businessman, I got distracted by the (very minor) glory of being a creative director, and I almost permanently burned a lot of relationships along the way. I think we've all made up now, but that doesn't mean I didn't fail.
As bad as that failure was, though, talking about it didn't make a very interesting article, so I started thinking about my fears. I'm afraid that I won't deliver what I promised on every single project I take. I'm afraid that I'll fail as a business owner when I can't make a profit, I can’t make payroll, or I even have to lay people off (I don't actually have employees, yet). I'm afraid that I'll turn out to be a bad husband or father because I didn't always have the best example. Like everybody else with any ambition, I'm just afraid of failing.
Looking at that list, though, my most obvious fears are pretty boring and only worth talking about over a bottle of Scotch to my closest friends. I wanted to write something deeply honest, so I kept brainstorming until I realized one of my fears that I almost assume will happen: I'm afraid that I will never enjoy success. I'm not just afraid that I'll never be successful (though that's there), but I'm afraid that even if I have success I'll never see it because I'll be too locked into my ongoing roller coaster of feelings about what I make:
So, my fear is that, like a mouse on a treadmill, I’ll keep repeating this process forever without ever enjoying success. That’s just my irrational fear, though, and there’s no reason to believe I won't be able to one day sit back and enjoy the feeling of publishing a book without being afraid of the missing follow-up or immediately critiquing it to death.
For now, though, I'm just going to hit publish and wait ten minutes before I start either hating or idealizing this post. Ten whole minutes of feeling good starting now.