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How to fail at everything

Updated on March 8, 2014

Turns out I have been going about things the wrong way all this time.

Years of bad practices have led to a lifestyle I am not completely content with. Don’t get me wrong I have plenty to be happy with. Beautiful family, awesome friends, living in America's Finest City. However, one thing is missing. One last piece of the puzzle that has remained scattered on the table, and has yet to be placed. My tale is a long and unfulfilled one, but lessons are there to be learned.

This is your brain on "street"
This is your brain on "street"

"I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says." -The Godather II

I am what some people call “street smart”. Not in the “I can find you a dime sack in about 20 minutes from a guy I know” street smart, but I have never really been labeled “book smart” either. Scholastics were ever a problem for me as much as the aptitude and effort part was. Still, as much as I side stepped any notable scholastic achievement, I have also faked out any viable options for long lasting employment. Education is both a competition and a fight for the fittest. Based on my employment history and current prospects for work, I have failed on both accounts. If you don’t think the person sitting in class next to you is a competitor trying to take some of the same jobs that you’re eventually going to try to take, you are simply a fool.

Build for a future, and you could build one of these
Build for a future, and you could build one of these | Source

Dream big or dont dream at all

In my youth, I wanted to be an architect. I had no idea what went into being a designer of buildings, but I thought the word architect sounded cool, and I knew such professionals could make a lot of money in that field. I did not study business or structural design as a person with a goal of becoming an architect would do, and have now designed more buildings with my son’s building blocks than I have for any clients. Childhood mission failed.

I discovered a talent for writing in high school and even joined the school newspaper, where I became sports editor. I enjoyed voicing my opinions about sports, being a passionate sports fan, and I was even proud of the articles that I wrote. I knew little of the world outside of California having only modest worldly experiences to draw from. But I contributed some articles that I assume a few students read. I still have the articles in storage, but surely none of those same students are recalling the past and browsing through my juvenile opinions. Writing is the one thing people have told me I have a talent for, yet I have spent very little time honing my skills, perfecting the craft of the gift of gab or pursuing anything more than local journalism about local topics.

As an aspiring writer, I did little to immerse myself in the culture of being a wordsmith. I did not hang out with highly educated people that correctly used sophisticated vocabulary like balderdash or tomfoolery. I did not read the great works of (any) generations to learn how to turn a phrase or accurately describe a setting through words. I have even been criticized for my writing style being too colloquial, which I very much agree with. One lesson I did learn early was the inverted pyramid style of writing, where you provide the most pertinent information about the topic, then let the rest filter down where there is none left. In today’s social media world, the rules seem a bit relaxed and I have embraced that type of freedom with open arms. I write in the same manner that I would talk to friends or family, casually and jokingly, informational and opinionated up front. If there is a discussion to follow from that, so be it. I have opinions, but even in my late 30s, I am still not exactly shouting them from the rooftops. Writing mission semi-failed…. but wait, there is more.

In community college in the early 90s, I received honorable mention for sports journalism at a regional conference in California. A nice thing to put on a resume, but it was well over a decade ago, and is now probably less recognizable than a 80s child television star. Another possible failed spring board to a writing career, had I only built on that recognition.

In today’s social media world EVERYONE has an opinion and (unfortunately) now has more power than ever to express their ideas to whoever will click a link or turn up the volume on a podcast. For me, this is where my tracks halt at the door. I’ve never considered my opinions (on politics, sports, weather, education… on down the line) to matter more than the next person’s and have never gone out of my way to make sure anybody reading (or listening) would have ready access to them. Sure, my close friends might chime in with a word or two, and my wife might appease me with chuckle about a sports joke I made. However, I cannot say I have anyone in my life that regularly challenges me on the important issues of the world.

A surefire plan for failure is to not carry through with tried and true steps to succeed, combined with a lack of trying things differently divided by a defeatist attitude. Not presenting my opinion to those who may or may not be looking for it keeps me firmly planted at ground zero.

During high school orientation, I was told by an administrator of the school that the football team was practicing and that I should go check it out if I was interested in playing. I took one look at the big guys on the field and high tailed it home. Failure to even chat with the coaches that day may have led to a successful run as a speedy but small wide receiver. Later I would let my awkwardness as a skinny kid in a basketball jersey get in the way of a successful career as a shooting guard, even though I enjoyed playing the sport. Failure is not looking past the people who might be looking at you and letting your shyness get in the way of your enjoyment of the game.

It can be easy to hit a career ceiling

Does hard work pay off?

I have a strange knack of landing jobs (never careers, or long-term employment) that have a very low ceiling when it comes to advancement (and earning potential). Since I turned a legal working age, I have held at least 15 different positions, the longest of which I held for six years. That would average out to about one new position every few years of my adult life. Failure to grow as an employed person comes from not exactly succeeding at anything you’ve tried or having the gumption to try to present yourself as better option than others employees.

I have applied for and/or sent out resumes in regards to hundreds of job openings to this point, only to be met with lack of (slightly>zero) response and interviews gone unrewarded. I have interviewed with large companies with hundreds of employees and never heard a single word in response. Conversely, I have met with tiny companies and received an answer rather promptly. I have yet to figure out if I am a complete asshole to people when I interview, with the words coming out of my mouth completely opposite of how I mean to say them, or if nobody has accountability anymore. Lack of return emails and voicemails, which take no more than 20 seconds (yes, I have timed it) has left me jaded and somewhat bitter.

Does my lack of success stem from a poor economy where more people are flooding the market looking (settling) for the same types of jobs? Or does my lack of a solid degree (overpriced tech school not included, unfortunately) lead to me not getting even a second look? Am I always in the wrong place at the wrong time? A heaping helping of all the above is what I am convinced is partially to blame. My wife, with master’s degree and exact career that she wants in hand, tells me that schooling is the way to go. Hard to argue with the logic of someone currently bringing in three times the salary that I am. Perhaps education, which did not lead to the success I wanted after graduating from a technical program, is the way to go. Up to date training could lead to a gratifying position in a field that I really enjoy. Perhaps I learn how to start the business I really want to attempt and allow me to be successful at it. And maybe, just maybe, I put all my eggs in one basket, throw caution to the wind and try to become my own boss and learn to succeed without having to rely on other people. Sometimes, failure to hit the ball is resting the bat on your shoulder for too long of a period.

How To Fail in Five Easy Steps:

Set goals, but tell NOBODY
Anybody can set goals, but if you don’t tell a relative, a spouse, perhaps a close friend, then you’re really just blowing smoke up your own ass. Being able to justify your lack of success in achieving a goal to yourself is much easier than having to explain it to the person you promised things would get better.

Stay the course
Sticking to your routine is easy and it will keep you from failing if you try anything new. Venture out of your comfort zone and you may find that learning something new might actually broaden a few horizons and open up opportunities you never thought of.

Settle for Second Place
That guy sitting next to you in Economics 101 or on the other side of your cubicle at work is your direct competition in life, working to be one step ahead of you and make a better life for himself, possibly to your detriment. Treat EVERYONE as opposition, because the next person is trying to squeeze into the same tight spot that you are.

Be ordinary
Have the ability to dominate a basketball game like Michael Jordan? Have an idea that will make you a billionaire before your 30th birthday like Mark Zuckerberg? If so, you may have what it takes become extremely successful in this world. If not, you will likely be stuck in the middle class like everyone else. The world has a tendency to cater to those who can do what others cannot (professional athletes, doctors, actors, entrepreneurs), or those that are willing to do what others will not (crane operator, high rise metal worker).

Hide your Ideas, Inventions and Intentions
Some of the most successful businessmen and entrepreneurs in the world had a little help along the way. So if you maintain secrecy about your master plan, it has more potential to fail than succeed. Don’t spoil the magic trick before the grand finale, and you are sure to fool a good majority of the people.

Failure, not according to the following

Success has more than one definition, and none is any more right than it is wrong. Find your definition, stick to it and you are sure to thrive in whatever way you deem fit. The key to falling is not only learning to get back up but how to lessen the number of falls after learning from the first one.

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