Failure is a good thing

I’ve been holding off talking about what is happening in my professional life in a public forum like this site for a while. This is the first in a series of posts about failure, covering my experience with a complete shutdown of a relatively large platform.

Not that many weeks ago, my group learned that our little platform would be shutdown. Half the staff was laid off, and half was retained to shutdown and transition the service. We failed. Our experiment failed. Most would view this failure as a terrible thing, however, I think this is a good thing. This is a very good thing.

We as humans fear failure. We hide from it, we feel it in deep shame, we run from talking about it with our family and peers. From failing a test in school, to failed relationships, to the first job we got fired from, we avoid the pain, the shame and are forced to face the realization we are far from perfect. We compare ourselves to greater people and often beat ourselves up with thoughts like “Why can’t I be as good as that person? Why am I such a failure? I’m such an imposter!” The thing is, when we look up to people we think are perfect, awesome and successful, we don’t see the failures that led them to their great success. We don’t see the falls, suffering and pain. We see the results. The results come from the pain, suffering and learning from mistakes. Everyone sucks when they start, after each failure, we suck a little less than before. Knowing this, that the people who are the most awesome have made the most mistakes, and learned from them, to be more like our heroes, we should seek out failure. Weird, right?

What failed?

With this experiment, we made mistakes. We chose the wrong priorities. We misunderstood our product. We tried to do too much. We didn’t focus time in the best way. My squad retros are filled with various versions of these statements. This is okay. This is a good thing. This is actually fucking awesome.

Why is it awesome? Because we get the opportunity to crash and burn and start over fresh. We see movies and read stories where the last hero gets to hand the keys or torch or whatever to the next crew. It’s always held high in respect, as a noble task of honor, and quiet heroism. It’s also a great opportunity. How often have you run into a legacy system that still had a certain nuance that prevented you from really making vast improvements? How many times have you had the chance to strategically burn something to the ground and leave something better in the ashes? Failure fucking rocks.

Failure is learning.

Biking is a hobby of mine. I’ve ridden various styles and various levels of enthusiasm throughout my life, but two things remain true.

  • I’m not a very good rider.
  • After every crash, I get better.

Crashes, outages, odd errors give us experience. Every time I crash, I learn and get better.

  • When I was 10, I went way too fast down a big hill, could not turn fast enough, lost control, and ran full speed into a cinder block wall chipping a tooth. I can still feel where the filling repair is. That day I learned how to control my speed and how to brake fast under control. I also learned the importance of balance.

  • In my 20’s I was riding a little too fast through the bayou trails in Houston. I had a bike that didn’t fit me well, but I had bought for a very good price. I ran through the cavernous ditches a bit too aggressively and did my first full on superman. In case you don’t know what I mean, this is when your bike stops, but you continue your forward momentum, arms stretched out in front of you, like superman. This time I learned the importance of a good fitting bike.

  • Later in my 20’s/early 30’s I was riding to meet a friend for coffee and some ‘urban assault’ type riding. I had purchased new wheels, and was excited to try them out. I was on the sidewalks (first mistake) and didn’t see the sidewalk panel rising 6 or so inches from flat, and had to try and jump but landed right on the edge of the raised panel, damaging my brand new mavic 717. This time I learned the importance of good visibility, and lighting.

  • In my 30’s I was riding more technical trails, lots of trees, narrow single track. after hitting too many trees, I (re)learned the lesson “look to where you want to go, not where you don’t.”

  • Also in my 30’s a friend convinced me to try out eggbeaters pedals instead of what I was used to, the “standard” spd pedals. These were dramaticaly different from what I was used to, but fans of them say they are way better. I bought a pair and tried them out for a while. This resulted in yet another full on super man, on a hill, where I landed and knocked the wind out me harder than I have experienced since elementary school. Here I learned two things. Be fearless when trying new things, but also be fearless when rejecting things that don’t work for you. Today I still use SPD pedals. (and still use vim)

Lessons in life often hurt.

I continue learning lessons every day. Sometimes the lesson hurts a little, sometimes it hurts a lot. Either way, after the pain and suffering, I come out better. Biking taught me that failure is not just a good thing, It’s a fucking awesome thing we should all seek out. This failure hurts. It will likely hurt more as we go. I know that I will walk away from this with lessons that are valuable beyond what I can understand or appreciate right now. I’ll write more as I learn, and hopefully share this very unique experience with all of you.