I had the opportunity the other night to share one of my all-time favorite quotes with my daughter when she was crushed after doing poorly on a test. Michael Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” My daughter didn’t fail, but she didn’t do as well as she liked. More importantly, she tried as hard as she could. I was proud of her for trying. Trying, and failing, and then trying again will eventually lead to success.
Tonight we had a conversation about her boyfriend – a great young man who has a start-up dream he wants to chase after he graduates from college. I don’t know what the idea is but I’ll do everything I can to help, and I hope with every fiber of my being that it’s the next Google.
But I felt it important to explain that start-ups are a LOT of work with an incredibly high rate of failure. I went on to say that failure doesn’t make you a loser, or a bad person – it’s the evolutionary step to success. I should know, I’ve failed a lot.
Straight out of college, my best friend (and now beta-team reader) and I chased several dreams. The first was Courageous Comics. It was during the late 90s when comic book sales soared. I had been collecting since I was 8. Not only did this make me an expert in comic books, but having recently graduated from college certainly made me a business genius. We were going to be the Blockbuster for comic books. We wrote a business plan, shopped it around, and even looked at space to lease out. It ended when the owner of a strip mall said, “You don’t have a pot to piss in. Without money, this just isn’t going to happen.” He was right.
My second idea happened during the early days of the first big internet boom. It was before anyone had heard of Amazon, or Google. I was a Manufacturer’s Representative selling tools to wholesalers. There were hundreds of online retailers with no inventory, and manufacturers didn’t know how to ship out anything less than a pallet of product. We Ship One was born.
The plan was to be another warehouse for manufacturers that could handle small shipments, and some I spoke with loved the idea. Web site retailers were starving for it since they didn’t actually have to own any of the product. Matt and I actually had investors review the plan and tentatively offer seed money if we had something to show them. Despite a lot of excitement, and I mean the kind of excitement that encourages the purchase of fine cigars, I had nothing to show. I failed, again.
I eventually went back to comics with a mail order business. An internet comic book store was unheard of, so it was all done by snail mail. Every month, I created a catalog. Scanners were very expensive, and we had a new baby, so I scanned images from Diamond Distributor’s Preview catalog using a fax machine and my black and white laptop. I had rewired a phone cord with a 9-volt battery that connected between them so it worked like a scanner. It was a poor scanner, and the images required a lot of editing. Eventually, I cobbled together a smaller catalog printed at Kinko’s on legal-sized paper. My wife and I would use a long neck stapler and mail them out every month. I had enough customers to break even, and spent $1,000 on a full page ad in Hero magazine that eventually paid for itself.
It took a year to realize, however, that between my full-time job that actually paid bills and this full-time job that kept me from spending time with my wife and son, it wasn’t going to happen. I threw in the towel and made another mark on the failure chalkboard.
Creative people tend to come up with lots of ideas. I came close to starting a radio talk show in St. Louis, working for a movie producer in Hollywood who actually became something. Then there was the writing. I’ve penned lots and lots of crap that very few people have ever read. The writing was always most important, but I couldn’t calm down enough to actually complete anything worth reading until I was in my 40s. Even now, I don’t consider myself a successful writer. At least not financially – yet.
I do get something else out of writing. Adventures at cons with friends. I get to meet lots of people and make more friends. I’ve also received reviews, emails (and even a handwritten letter) from people I don’t know, who have graciously shared their appreciation for my books. When someone says that I’ve made them laugh, or that they can’t wait for the next book, I don’t consider myself a failure anymore.
At a recent conference I attended, popular comic book writer Jason Aaron said, “Stories don’t just happen. You have to build them, craft them, and refine them. You can’t just sit around and wait for someone to tell you you’re a writer. There’s no writer fairy. You have to work for it.” I think these wise words are great advice in any field, and it took me longer than most to be happy with where I’m at. My advice for my daughter’s boyfriend, for friends and family, and for anyone whose dreams don’t go the right direction… after the failure hangover is done, try again. You’ve got another idea in there somewhere, and you’ve learned enough to do an even better job next time.
At the end of this long-winded lecture, my daughter said, “Wow, you’re like Wikipedia. You know stuff!” Isn’t it nice when it finally comes around? It certainly took long enough to get here.