November 19, 2005

Failure is Success.

While I hate to lend credence to the current Republican habit of double-speak ("Fighting is Safety", "Dissent is Terrorism", "Religion is Hate"), there are some dissonant clichés which actually make sense.

So it is with, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," for example. Now, obviously, we DO have other things to fear, like, say, having our democratic government completely co-opted by corrupt, tiny-minded men whose only interest is in gathering and preserving wealth and power, at any cost.

Wait, where was I? Oh, that's right. Fear. I think what our friend was trying to warn us away from was something I've been trying to fight all my life, which is a fear of failure which is greater than the consequences of actually failing.

I mean, if someone asked you to jump out of a plane, you might rightfully say, "Uh, if this fails, I'll be a thin layer, so, no thanks." And I'm not going to take you to task for that.

But if I say, "Hey, if you want to design games, you should look at modding some current games and then put them out there on the web," and you say, "Well, I could, but I'd probably suck at it, so it's easier to sit here and watch Blind Date," then I'd have a problem, and I might even give you a stern lecture during that extra-long commercial break that comes after the second date wrap-up and just before the "Hall of Shame," which is never really very good anyways.

Irrational fear of failure is endemic in our society; I think it's the primary factor keeping most people from doing the great things they're meant to do. I've personally never met anyone who worked hard and fearlessly at a field and did NOT succeed. I know there must occasionally BE people who fail despite their best efforts, because I've heard "the stories," but there are SO MANY MORE who simply won't try because they've heard that you can't win.

Failing is to be strived for! If you aren't failing, you aren't at the edge of the envelope of your abilities, and if you aren't at the edge, you aren't stretching yourself, so you aren't learning, so you're just wasting time. Failing is how nature succeeds. Evolution works through failure of the poorest (they get et) more than survival of the fittest. Muscles grow because you work them to failure, and they then respond by getting stronger. Your spinal cord learns not to touch fire by getting burnt. Failure is not just handled gracefully by nature, it is critical.

So, seriously, have you failed today? If not, why the heck not? I mean, think of the consequences of failing, and if they aren't deadly and/or permanently disabling, then go ahead and bite off more than you can chew. Try to cook something that you just made up. Take a bike ride that's too far. Take your car into an empty parking lot and do donuts until you learn where the tires give. Start a project that might be too big for you.

What's the worst that's going to happen? You'll get laughed at? By Erin Martens, that cute girl you had a crush on in 11th grade? And she'll say, "That's why I never went out with you, you stupid idiot, it's because you're such a failure all the time"? And you'll die alone and unliked, and they won't discover your body until it's half-eaten by your cats, who actually had enough food, they just ate you out of spite?

You're right. When's Blind Date on?


Blog redesign: You may notice my blog looks a wee bit different. I'd like to thank everyone who sent me entries; there were many lovely ones. 20-year-old Spaniard Alex Bendiken's struck me the right way, so he gets 15 seconds of fame (from me, at least), and his iPod will be sent off as soon as he sends me his address. Congratulations, Alex!



Blogger Troy Phillips said...

Wil - you rule (oh and your blog looks better too)

November 19, 2005 8:22 PM

Blogger thomas Aylott said...

I think i've just failed at writing an interesting and insightful witty comment.

Do I win?

November 19, 2005 10:00 PM

Anonymous Cliff Hales said...

True. I've just started working at a job that I feel is way out of my league as far actually know what I'm supposed to be doing. It scares the crap out of me when I break something, but I don't think I've ever learned faster.

November 20, 2005 1:09 AM

Anonymous anil said...

Will - you might like the blog on the basis of this post. I named it Fail. My friend writes it.

Let's all make mistakes.

November 20, 2005 2:18 AM

Anonymous Anders Hovmöller said...

Right on! I'm currently failing quite a bit in a rather gruesome salsa show course I'm taking.

And the design looks great, much creds to Alex.

November 20, 2005 4:25 AM

Anonymous alcopop said...

Will, you are an inspiration to us all.

November 20, 2005 4:54 AM

Anonymous Richard Albury said...

Well put, sir. It's like the tagline from that - dating myself here - Lightspeed C ad which touted the compile speed: "Make mistakes faster."

November 20, 2005 4:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will, one of your prizes were recognition on this site.
I thought his name would be permanently written somewhere, or did you just mean this remark about him winning in the end of this post?

November 20, 2005 4:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice redesign. Very clean and cute.

November 20, 2005 6:45 AM

Anonymous cesar said...

"Failure is Sucess!" amen!

For example, if you get fired from a company, you could only do three things: knock all the other doors, start your own company or start crying like a baby and feel sorry for your self. I choose all but the last one

I enjoy a lot your weblog! =)

November 20, 2005 8:45 AM

Anonymous lazlofruvous said...

I missed a meeting with a professor the other day, after I accidentally broke a Linux system that 1,400 people depend on for email, mailing lists, websites, etc. (Oops.) After 5 hours of debugging NFS, it turns out I had the ethernet cable in the wrong jack.

In reply to my apology-for-skipping-the-meeting email, my professor told me "You can't learn from mistakes unless you make them."

November 20, 2005 10:15 AM

Anonymous Ross Boucher said...

Wil - The new design is pretty nice. Very clean, definitely some great ideas in there. Just thought I'd point out the origin of the clouds:

I didn't know if you were aware or not, and I don't really know the licensing on the images, so I just thought I'd give you a head's up.

By the way, The Flying Spaghetti Monster called, he want's his nits back.

November 20, 2005 11:53 AM

Anonymous Alex Bendiken said...

First of all, a big thank you to Wil for choosing my design! When I saw Wil's email, I must've woken up half the neighbourhood with my YEE-HAA! Other design competitions will be a walk in the park after this ;-)

Thanks also to everyone else for your accolades.

Thanks for pointing that out!
I drew those clouds originally as a placeholder, but forgot to replace them trying to meet the deadline. Obviously I don't mean to be copycatting anyone. I've now drawn new clouds, in a shape not dissimilar to the Monster's head, as was my original idea.


November 20, 2005 1:57 PM

Anonymous Felix said...

"Failure is an option reserved for those who try .."


November 20, 2005 3:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went skiing with my brother-in-law a couple years ago for the first time. He thinks he's a great skier and was proud that he never falls down. IMO, if you don't fall down, you're not skiing hard enough.

November 20, 2005 5:08 PM

Anonymous Manton Reece said...

Another great post. As someone who has also taken on entirely too many projects in the last few months, two of which are particularly ambitious, I agree. I wouldn't have it any other way. (Unless by "other way" you mean relaxing on the beach and not working, in which case, sure.)

November 20, 2005 6:06 PM

Anonymous Ross Boucher said...

Alex: Cool. I didn't mean to call you a copycat or anything, and if you've gone and done newer clouds, even cooler. Nice design.

November 20, 2005 6:57 PM

Anonymous Alex Bendiken said...

Ross: Thanks, I'm glad you like it :-)

November 20, 2005 7:25 PM

Anonymous Chad said...

Great use of 1984-isms. For anyone who hasn't read the book 1984 yet, I recommend it as the single most important book I've ever read. An English class is a good way to spoil a great book, so read it on your own time.

As for not trying after "hearing the stories", I will agree and disagree with a certain point.

When I was 18, I would have enjoyed pursuing a career as a musician, however I realized that the music market, especially MTV was a load of crap. Music is about the image, and if the music is actually semi-decent, then so much the better to sell more copies. Realizing that being a successful musician, much less a long-standing career, is next to impossible in the U.S. Like the lottery, you take a gamble, and if you win, you can win big. Everyone else just loses. I also think in the music industry that there are just too many factors outside of your control to ensure that you are to become successful. But if you are a REALLY good tennis or chess player, you will very likely succeed due to your skills as long as you push yourself and compete.

That said, some of the most motivated and creative people tend to be those who fly the bird to conventionalism and walk the lovely path less traveled. But you all probably know that anyway.

November 20, 2005 8:34 PM

Blogger andyc said...

Chad: I agree that the much of the music industry is market driven, and it frustrates me to no end. However, don't you think that success as a musician depends upon how you are rating that success? I think there are two paths in the music industry, the path of the popstar and the path of the musician, each of which have their own measures of success - either path rating poorly against the other.

If you measure your success by the number of record sales on a mainstream chart, by the number of groupies, by the number of times your clip appears on MTV then you're attempting to become a pop-star, which really does depend upon image, social context, marketing and so on; the music is secondary.

For me there's something cool about an underground act who play the dirty scenes and have people that adore their music for what it is. They'll most likely never be hugely successful pop-stars, but as musicians they excel, and their peers and fans recognise that; which in my opinion is worth just as much.

So the bands and musicians that do strike it big financially, while still being musically "decent", have just found a middle ground between those two paths.

November 20, 2005 9:48 PM

Blogger random milk said...

thanks wil.
i start my new job next monday, and now i'm not quite as shit-scared as i was earlier today.

November 21, 2005 1:47 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

there's an old african saying that I just love:
"to stumble is not to fall down, but to move foward"

November 21, 2005 6:08 AM

Anonymous oliverchaddock said...

Will, watching the Evening at Adler video I really liked the way you handled yourself. Not afraid to speak your mind and not willing to take any flak for something you said which other people misunderstood or disagreed with (or both!).

This is the first time I've read your blog and now I like you even more (in a purely non homo-erotic way, of course). Fear of failure is definitely the biggest limiting factor in my life, and it's hard to understand why because usually when I do try my best at something I tend to succeed. But it's always still there, this fucking great elephant on my back, holding me down.

I'm going to try harder to get past it, though, thanks in part to this blog entry.

I love the library btw, and I'm looking forward to more delicious software.

November 21, 2005 8:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I've seen, my friends and I fail at things and don't take the initiative because we're lazy/intimidated. I've been meaning to port a game I wrote in Java to Cocoa/Obj-C, but I just haven't gotten around to finishing it because I always get discouraged by little stupid things I can't figure out.

It would be nice if my local college offered a class on programming in Cocoa/Obj-C. I just can't seem to gather enough self discipline to sit down and learn it myself.

November 21, 2005 1:14 PM

Anonymous Bryce M. said...

Failure? What about mediocrity? Yuck. So much of it around these days that "failure" appears to have been redefined.

November 21, 2005 6:56 PM

Anonymous ssp said...


as much as I like the point you're trying to make, I don't really see you succeed at making it all the way. While it's quite obvious that you're right in the 'small' examples like extreme cooking or trying other things.

Those are points where failing is not a big problem. Your experimental meal goes wrong? Too bad, you'll have to chew your way through a bad meal. Your experimental meal goes horribly wrong? No problem, you'll just order a pizza instead. And in both cases you'll probably have learned a thing or two about cooking and will be looking forward to your next chance to try making that experimental dish.

But what about the bigger scale? If the thing you want to do is a year long full-time project, failure may not be an option you can afford. And those seem to be failures that keep people from starting such projects because they need to eat and stuff.

I don't think you really give a convincing argument for that situation which seems to be the critical one. And I'd quite like to see one.

November 22, 2005 6:41 AM

Anonymous Nick said...

Too true Wil -- this was just what I didn't know I wanted to hear today.

November 22, 2005 8:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wil, I think you might enjoy this speech by Fmr. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, John Gardner:

I think it's not only important to try to risk failure while looking towards the future but to always look to the future. One's past never dictates the future unless one lets it.

November 22, 2005 11:14 AM

Blogger Wevah said...

This is the #1 thing that's been plaguing me recently. This entry couldn't have come at a better time!

November 23, 2005 8:42 AM

Blogger Sandor said...

Well, I think it is a lot more like "practice makes perfection" or "if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger" thing.... and a little common sense.... if you are smart enough you will try to find out which is the right way and which is not, i.e. as I am not too tall, I never expected to be a basketball player, and It's not that I dislike basketball, I just didn't have the right "equipment" to succeed there, or I could try to join an african pigmy league....

If you have tools to fix a watch you can't fix your car with them: you will spoil the tools, won't fix the car and will be frustrated in the end , not to mention you will lose valuable time....

So, I don't think failure is the way, it's just a natural way of life to tell you you're not doing it the right way, believe me, if anyone has done it before it can be done, if you have the right tools and know how to use them, success is not only probable, it's really unavoidable.

The main problem about solving a problem (or to succeed at anything) is that you will move on to something harder, you will eventually fail (As stated by Principle of Peter), so, again, failure is not the way to go, it is destiny....

November 24, 2005 10:05 AM

Blogger Sandor said...

PS. if you twist anything enough it will eventually break

November 24, 2005 10:08 AM

Anonymous Jerome said...

Hi Wil. Your post is great! It gave me a good laugh and pinch of inspiration.

November 24, 2005 5:15 PM

Anonymous Stef said...

ssp asks what if the failure is a long project down the pan? How do we eat? Well, I guess that if I have a goal, and I want to get to that goal, then I should ask myself, what's an appropriate next step on the way there?
Now I may find that I fail at that first step, in which case I can learn and try again. Or I may handle it ok, and so get to the next step after that. It's using steps that gradually expand the envelope.

December 03, 2005 7:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being able to fail successfully doese have a pre-requisite. It is faith in yourself and your sanity. If you fail at something a hundred times, and you keep trying, you won't be able to see the forest from the trees if you can't trust yourself in failing; otherwise, you'll just go crazy. Then again, maybe you are just a failure?

The last paragraph rocked btw, and I haven't been able to keepup my blog reading.

December 15, 2005 1:34 PM

Anonymous Lorin Rivers said...

Corollary: if you really want to understand what a particular law does, simply invert the name, thus:

USA Patriot Act: the founding father are spinning in their graves

No Child Left Behind: hahahahahaha poor people don't vote! Ignorant people are poor, QED...

Finally, here's a choice quote:
"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
-- Hermann Goering in his cell on the evening of 18 April 1946

December 29, 2005 5:37 PM

Blogger David Swallow said...

Hi, I read Failure Is Success and I found it very interesting. But if failure is success, then is success failure. And, therefore, is success success? I ask this question on

February 18, 2006 4:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your fraudulent assertions-Such as "fighting is safety"-as republican /orwellian,just make me laugh.Fighting people who attack you is more safe than just accepting being raped and murdered.Isn't that obvious? At least fighting back gives you or me a chance.Islam offers no quarter-no mercy.Just ask Nicholas Berg-who had his head sawed off-after being kidnapped by Al-Qaida-for the crime of installing cell-phone towers in Iraq-and being a Jew.

February 27, 2007 1:20 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

We're not fighting people who attacked us. We're ignoring the people who attacked us and attacking people with oil.

Your assertion that all muslims are zealots is assinine, and your implicit assertion that all muslims are our enemy disgusts me.

I've dated a muslim; strangely, she did not declare a jyhad on me or saw off my head. We did have sex a lot, which kind of hurt my back, so I guess you could conclude she's part of the great global muslim conspiracy to Attack Our Freedom.

February 27, 2007 3:12 PM

Anonymous Brenda Whitfield said...

In the middle of my very serious MA dissertation research on failure for success, your blog brought a smile to my weary face. Thank you.

August 13, 2008 7:11 AM


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