Failure is not an option. That’s how my life looks right now as the days wind down to final exit from a 9-5 grind. The bugle calls: entrepreneurship!! Master of my own fate and captain of my own destiny. I’m no fool (I think). I am realistic and pragmatic but not necessarily practical. I know that I cannot do everything and anything. There are seven billion other buggers out there shuffling for space and recognition. Can I carve out a space where I can survive, succeed and be insatiably happy?
Failure is not an option. Hernan Cortes was said to have sunk (or burnt) his ships to give his army no escape options and thus no other option but fight to conquer Mexico. He did it for God and Spain. He wasn’t the first. Tariq ibn Ziyad is also said to have done the same eight hundred years earlier as he led his Islamic forces to conquer >> Spain/Iberia. It’s not unlikely that many others have tried this tactic unsuccessfully. Rather like the flightless birds of once uninhabited islands who cast off their flight skills only to face extinction at the arrival of a predator (most likely, man).
Failure is not an option. Who wants to be branded “loser”? The shame. Exclusion from the community. Being shunned and looked down upon. If you’re a loser you might as well forget about mating with desirable members of your species. Life for losers, if indeed one can call it that, can be grim. Life for losers can be fatal. Failure is not an option.
But failure is an option and if you think it through there really is no other option. Life throws so many curve balls that eventually we are bound to fail at something. Even the almighty Alexander the Great failed in his endeavour to conquer the world when his troops, homesick, finally had enough of fighting. He duly accepted that no man can conquer the world on his own and perhaps not at all. We can’t all be #1 at the same thing at the same time. Failure is very much an option. What is not an option is giving up.
Giving up is not an option. If you can’t be #1 or #2 (insert acceptable ranking) here you can be successful over there. You don’t have to bang your head against the same wall. If your dream is not working (say gold at the Olympics) then change direction, climb over the wall, dig under the obstruction or simply move to a different physical and/or mind space. These strategic options served our early ancestors well as they spread across the planet (destroying the local ecosystem) seeking new places where they could be independent of the old order they left behind. Moving is not always an option in our age when all the land’s taken and you need a passport to step across imaginary man-imposed borders. But in your mind you can always move.
Giving up is not an option because we can redefine our problems, reset our goals and sail in new directions. If we can’t have this then we will go for that. There’s no need to be stuck like a needle on a scratched vinyl record. You can’t go head-to-head with Microsoft in office software? Define a new market: creative software or games or something. You can’t go head-to-head with FaceBook in social networking? Create one for professionals or mums or [insert your passion]. You can’t get promoted at your current job? Move. Don’t die there. Move. You suck at maths but want to be an engineer? Can you code instead? Or are you good at drawing – you can be a designer! You hate your job but you love food? Cook but be creative about it and find a market you can shine in. You like beer? What about an independent brew? Your baby left you?
C’mon there’s no such thing as “He(she) was meant for me”. Nobody created any person for you – move your mind space and position yourself for another baby. [There’s only one person in the world for you. Really? There’s a Power out there who is ignoring all the problems in the world just to make sure you find that soul mate. Really?] And if you’re in the sort of job that’s truly dead end (street cleaner comes to mind) you have work to do to get yourself educated or vocationally trained in something that is worthwhile. Life is too short to be sitting on one’s ass or cleaning the street. Be part of the revolution: become an engineer and design machines for that sort of job – if we can think of cars that drive themselves then we can make machines to auto-clean our streets.
Use your head. Learn from failure. Don’t just pick up the pieces; sweep them away instead and start over, wiser and better.
Tonight is one of those epiphanies when I know I should quit moaning about all the things life throws at me and just do something freaking amazing. I don’t have to climb Everest or feed the multitude. I don’t have to save the world or land on the cover of Fortune magazine. All I need to do is figure out how to live learning and doing something that feeds on my passion and doing it stupendously well … while paying the rent. I can sweat the small stuff later.
“What would you like to be when you grow up?” Famous! A movie star! A brain surgeon! A football player! A doctor! I want to design cars and houses and ships! A pilot! I want to be a detective! You can take it for granted that most of us will not be what we dreamed of being.
Childhood is, for some at least, a golden age. A dream-filled epoch when we speak as fortune tellers empty words which delight hearers and speaker alike eliciting fatuous compliments such as ‘Oh, that’s good child. Isn’t that cute!”. The Solomonic truism that there is a time for everything is now threadbare and the age of gold comes and then drifts past. Afterwards come the ages of Bronze and Iron or is it Copper [I forget my Virgil] but you get the picture. Epochs like the human age deteriorate and as a man past his twenties but not yet upon his sixties (grrr! fear!) I have come to that time in life when one kids one’s self not unless one is a fool: one has grown up. I know now that palms are for sensory contact with the surrounding environment and not for reading and that the time for thinking like a child is past.
So, what do I want to be now that I’ve grown up? When I was young it was the navy and the white uniform. As a teenager I wanted to be a singer-songwriter but lacked the grit and courage to sacrifice all for a dream. I eventually settled for a safe professional career but “safe”, I now see, is not what it once was. Still my dreams won’t release me and I feel like a flamingo caught in the jaws of a hyena or the nut caught in a cracker.
Two weeks ago I bought a beautiful new camera, the Fuji X100 (yay!) and as usual for me I went OTT buying books on photography. One illustration from one of those books stuck in my RAM (er, short term memory). It was of a battalion of ants crawling across London Bridge on their way to work in the City of London. They are all probably retired now but back then how important their daily routines and tasks must have seemed! Fast forward thirty years and I see colleagues running around sweating over fund flows, regulation, trades, basis points, quartile performance bla bla bla. What difference in fifty years will all this make? A big fat doughnut is what!
Newtonian physics as an explanation for how the universe works may have gone out of fashion like pleats but what hasn’t changed is the inconsequence of any life, human or otherwise. The improbable machine that is our universe grinds on defying explanation. Now, I understand fully that if you believe in God then obviously there is a point to life. Heaven, glory, virgins and all those wonderful prizes for leading a virtuous life. I have no such illusions; fiction is for the age of gold. I may as well sit at home and masturbate and enjoy the company of Captain Jack.
But there is no despair; rather, this point of view is very empowering once one has thought through the implications and that empowerment comes with a justification for a special kind of selfishness: the single minded purpose to live and to seize life’s decisive moments. To be. To be. To do. Yes, to do. But to do what? Whatever it is one may conceive of: brain surgeon, writer, actor, cross dresser, philosopher, psychologist or whatever. In this brave new world consideration of the opinions of others is strictly verboten. Anyone we think of today as “oh my God, what would they think?” won’t matter (as we won’t) in a billion years.
You define how to dress, how to speak, where to earn a living, who to fuck, what to read as long as you don’t physically harm anyone else or postulate their being harmed. That restriction is plain common sense. Emotional harm on the other hand can’t always be avoided for if our decisions about what we do and which don’t concern others offend their sensibilities then their objections harm us in turn and so we are square and we can go back to doing what we wanted to do in the first place. In like fashion if you want to sleep around or sleep in or get drunk and spend all your Sundays watching football that is up to you too. We can choose to do whatever it might take to be, to do, to live in the pursuit of happiness and to accept that, like grown-ups, every choice has a price and that as long as we are prepared to pay that price then we will happily give up our golden age of pointless dreaming.
I’m hunting around for antivenom by the tankful. It started like so: after two gorgeous weeks doing la-di-da and swanning around California, I returned to my work desk on Saturday to prepare for my full return on Monday. I arrived with mild palpitations (I should have you believe from excitement not fear) to find a strange publication on my desk. What was it? Ho-ho, it’s the new Hail Mary from the corporate juggernauts upstairs. While some of us were sipping Bellinis in Hollywood and getting stuffed with oyster sliders, some other hardworking types (the Alpha A+ personalities) got us a new corporate image.
The thing is, fifteen months ago we hired a very famous sports personality to (allegedly) sing our praises; he was, I thought, just the sort of charming adventurer who would get out of bed – for us – for nothing less than [.] million and not even know what we did. Twelve months of “what-is-this-guy-doing-for-us-again?” later and some ten percent (or some nice round number) of us got caught with our underpants round our knees during a “rightsizing” storm: despoiled, cold, wet and desk-less just before Christmas. I think I barely survived the rout for reasons I won’t go into but, boy, was I in shock. I’ve always been conflicted about loyalty to one’s colleagues and employer and I am minded (by compassion or guilt or plain stupidity) to stick with them but I have found that such mind-fulness only travels one way.
An unsettling fortnight or so afterwards, we the survivors were feted, toasted and celebrated at the annual Christmas party. Gimme a break! So now we are out spending money again and this time, it’s the Holy Grail. Uh-oh we saw where that ended last time. We are now told the old publicity campaign (aka stunt) delivered its objectives. Of course! We are now told it’s time to step up to the next level. Certainly! I admit the new image looks very professional; just the right shade of cocky grey bespattered with the correct amount of white and red to bestir the passions. It’s sure to send zillions of new clients our way. Even better was the decision to stuff it with well-worn and torpor-inducing corporate blather often hectored by garrulous consultants, imposing PR people and uber-MBA types.
I think of all the money we spent (and will spend) and then all the jobs with red tick marks against them for the next cull. Should I remain the loyal foot soldier, standing ground like the 300 at Thermopylae even until the fateful steel blade is thrust into my back making short work of my corporate life? That is the question. It’s a big question deserving ample consideration. The answer: of course, my loyalty must be above suspicion. I’m a professional, after all. Please, pass me the antivenom.