You’re going to fail. Grin and bear it. Jump into failure with a smile plastered on your face. Smash yourself over and over as you make your impossible attempts. You’re going to Fail and you’re going to like it.
No one ever said these words to me as a child, or if they did I wasn’t listening closely enough. When I was growing up it was always “you can succeed if you just put your mind to it.” While they’re both true I sometimes wonder if my life would have been easier if I’d been told both sides of this coin.
Because you’re going to fail. You’re going to stumble. You’re going to make mistakes. But by the same token, if you continue to fail, eventually you’ll succeed. There’s no failures in life, there’s people who have had some success in the past, those working towards success, and those who’ve taken a break before making another attempt, we may be one or all of those.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my life and about the life I want in the next 10 years. I have several things I see on the horizon, my daughter is about to reach one soon, I know that I’m going to have to play an active role in her life if I want to leave some of myself with her. But also I look at my career and in some ways I’ve reach a pinnacle in the sense I’ve achieved something beyond what I even dared to believe I could do. I’ve been part of something extraordinary and yet there’s a part of me that still believes I’m nobody from nowhere (and maybe I am).
I honestly don’t know what the next ten years are going to be. I’m sure I’m going to screw up, I’m not perfect, and I’m certainly not at the pinnacle of who I can be. I can always be better at writing code, faster cleaner code. I know that I’m not leading those around me as effectively as I should be. I think to move forward I’m going to have to elbow my way into decision making. I see so many things going on around me and I’m often unable to do something to make them better.
“You’re going to fail” Those words are what drove me to where I am though. I had a dark period in college where I stopped just being able to “work hard” (by an admittedly bad definition of ‘hard’) and had to actually fail to move forward. We don’t really learn our lessons and become better until we’ve been crushed. We don’t move beyond who we are until we’ve been shown undeniably that we can be better. After I took my break from school I had a rough year. I honestly was just scraping by trying to figure out what to do with my life and how to get it in order. Partly I simplified it by getting married. As crazy as that might sound it put to rest one of the biggest stresses I was facing.
I’m not by any means saying I thought I was unlovable, but there was always a doubt in my mind that once someone “found out” who I really was they would think I was pathetic, weird, stupid or just naïve. But after actually getting married, having that sort of affirmation that not only did the person I care about me see me as I was but that they were willing to really truly commit to spending their foreseeable future with me. That was crack in my self doubt that helped me start to get things back in order.
It was okay that I wasn’t perfect. It was okay that I had failed and was utterly useless financially. I was still acceptable. I had failed and life wasn’t over. So it was time to start building again. And I did build. I stopped trying to succeed at everything be perfect at everything. I started focusing on where I needed to be. I still failed at times, but it was okay because with my new focus I was learning from those failures. I was moving forward.
And then as I was coming to the end of my college time and I had all of the scary possibilities and none of the assurances of a good future. I interviewed at one place. A place I thought I could start a reasonable career at. I was so certain I had the foundation and I was going to get the job. I knew someone at the company was a friend’s parent. It was nearby, safe, an easy success.
I drove to that interview full of promise and I left broken. A failure. I’d stumbled badly on a few questions, they wanted someone with “experience” which I lacked. And they offered as a sort of consolation prize a possible position in “support” because of my success and experience from working in tech support at and ISP.
I failed. The safe thing would have been to take that support job. But that’s not what I worked so hard to do. I was going to be a developer, I was going to write code. I drank my failure and shame and I moved on.
And so I kept at it. And then something crazy happened. Microsoft called me and was interested in my resume. I didn’t believe it. Why would Microsoft consider me? I’m nobody from nowhere. But I thought “why not”. I’d already failed badly, what’s the worse that could happen. They’d fly me to Seattle, I’d interview, fail to get a job again, but maybe I could talk to them while I was there. Maybe I could learn something that would help me get my foot in the door. And at least then I could say I’d interviewed there.
And so I went into my second set of interviews a different person. A better person. I wasn’t there just to get a job, I was there with a mission to learn what I could about what they did. I opened up, asked questions, talked about my love of software and my hope to write more code. I got excited about being shown how I’d screwed up and could do it better. I was interviewing for something close enough to my “ultimate” goal of writing software that I was really into it. And apparently I nailed it. The best of who I am shined through and all three of my interviewers marked me with a “hire and for my team please”. I had my pick of the three. My failure turned to success.
If I hadn’t failed that first interview, or I had take then safer option of less ideal position, I’d probably live in Coeur d’Alene Idaho today. I would have been happy probably, but I’m not sure I would have been as happy. Certainly I would never have gotten to where I am today.
So yes. You’re going to fail. Lick your wounds. Get used to the taste of blood in your mouth, the pain of bruises, the humility of defeat. Failure makes you a stronger, better you. And even when you’re succeeding look for ways to fail as spectacularly as you can.
Shoot for the stars. Keep learning and pushing yourself. Never stop, rest maybe, but don’t stop. Stopping is stagnation, death. Hope isn’t about success, hope is about overcoming your failure. Realize now is not perfect, but you can make it more perfect. You’ll never make it perfect, but trying to make it more perfect is good enough.
I have high hopes for my daughter. I hope I can help her to grow faster where I struggled, be better than I am or ever will be. I have hope for myself. I have hope for us, I hope we’ll go beyond this world, this solar system, this galaxy. And even if we fail, we will have tried to be better than we were.
You will fail, and I have hope that you will learn from it. I have hope for you.