Knowing When To Fail

Okay, so yesterday's post generated quite a bit of optimistic email from some of you out there. And I'm very, very happy to have had that effect on you. But I feel that, having pumped you up with the whole "be passionate and you'll succeed" thing, I need to go ahead and break out the reality stick.

I stated very clearly that it's very likely that you will fail. And I meant it. It's not guaranteed that you will, and the harder you work and the more you love and believe in your project, the less likely that it is that you will fail... But you might. And you need to know what that looks like, and when to accept it.

Defeats are not failure. Setbacks are not failure. Losses are not failure. Failure is the moment of clarity you have which tells you that you are in a losing battle, and you need to concede. If it were a fist fight, it'd be the moment the guy got on top of you and began choking you. If it were a hockey game, it'd be the moment after the first goalie was pulled that the other team scored three more goals.

It may happen. In fact, unless you're in an elite class of extremely, extremely, EXTREMELY lucky people, it will happen. And it's very important that you know when to bow out and move on, or else you're going to get very seriously hurt.

A good example would be the web show I co-produced for Turner Broadcasting in 2007 (long-time readers know what I'm talking about). There was a moment when I realized I was pouring cash into a property I did not control, would not ever control, and could never realize profit from. There's a lot of nice things that could be said about that situation, but you won't hear them from me - it was a horrible, horrible mistake, and it was my fault entirely. I set myself up for ultimate failure by signing my own name to the contract, taking on all the responsibility, and being completely unwilling to take the kind of control I needed to on the project.

Once I realized it was a lost cause, I had a long talk with my wife, and the next day I told the other producer that I was leaving. He couldn't believe it - why would I walk away from this project when it was "my baby" and I had invested so much into it? Well, it's because I was already in the hole a pretty big amount, I never saw my wife, I couldn't get any of my own material shot and put to film, and I was sleeping about an hour a night. It was damaging my relationship and my health and my wallet, and I had approached a cliff where things were going to get drastically worse if I didn't put on the brakes and get the hell off that train.

Passion is 90% of any success you'll ever have... But that other 10%? Well, there's an old saying: 90% shit and 10% ice cream is shit. 90% ice cream and 10% shit is still shit.

Know when you're stepping in shit. And in the immortal words of Alan Moore: When you realize you have stepped in shit, don't jump up and down on it to punish it... Just scrape as much of it off your boot as you can and walk away.