Failing Towards Success

I based a lot of my early life goals around a misreading of the television show Family Ties. My hero was Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox. Alex valued the accumulation of wealth above all, enjoyed making fun of his ex-hippie parents and looked up to Richard Nixon. I didn’t get that he was a conservative caricature. I took everything he said as gospel. I decided that, when I grew up, I’d be a Wall Street trader or a banker or something–anything–to do with money. I was 12.

Years later, as a confused young adult still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I remembered that old goal and decided to give banking a shot. I applied and got a job working at a call center for Bank of America.

That job sucked.

Not because B of A was a horrible employer, but because my mind was ill-equipped for the task. I had a mental block towards all things banking and couldn’t retain anything I learned about it. I flamed out after three weeks. Never even made it out of training.

I thought I was a loser. A chump. Destined to fail at everything.

It was the slap in the face I needed to finally understand something very basic about myself. Something everyone who knew me was already well aware of, but that my inner Alex P. Keaton had long refused to admit: I was a creative person.

I hadn’t just failed at banking, I learned I was never going to be successful at anything that required repetition, facts, memorization, protocols or math. That’s just not how I’m put together, however badly I may wish otherwise.

I understood, finally, that I needed to invent, explore, paraphrase, create and dream.

Within a couple of years I landed on my major in college: Graphic Design. Amazingly, at a time when most of my peers were biting their nails over the possibility that there might not be any opportunities for them after college, I was blessed to get a job in my chosen field a year and half before graduation. Been there ten years now.

The job pays well, good benefits. It’s a 9-to-5’er and I’m an insomniac, so I started using my nights to create even more. I collaborated on a (fully written, but since abandoned) graphic novel with a friend. I started blogging. I created The SuperFogeys and then Monsterplex. I wrote a book. I’m not a rich man, but I’ve done things worth doing and I think greater success is ahead of me.

My fake internet friend Angie Mizzell writes a blog that’s all about redefining success, which I suppose is what got me thinking about this. She was going to be a big time news reporter. Now, she’s a mom. Big change, and one she argues is for the better. I can’t disagree.

Alex P. Keaton would probably make fun of me for being “artsy” (if he were, y’know, real and hadn’t lost everything about four years ago when the real estate bubble burst) and shame me for not caring so much about money. But screw that guy.

I never would have figured out what really mattered to me without without that one, simple, absolutely miserable three week failure. Smart as I thought I was, I had my limits. But knowing those limits? It set me free towards more possibilities than I never would have imagined otherwise.

What about you? Do you have any failures that were key to later success?