“No one is allowed to use anything that’s connected to the Internet for the next hour.” This was the one thing that I asked of my wife and kids on a spring day in May of 2014. I was preparing for a Skype session that I had been waiting [not so] patiently for months to take place. Spotty Internet that would lead to pixelated video and audio delays – or, worse yet, bring the entire conversation to a grinding halt – was my second biggest fear of that day. My first one being that my lack of quality conversational skills mess it up and make things awkward for both myself and the individual on the other end. I was not about to let any kind of epic failure ruin everything.
A few months earlier, I had supported a Kickstarter campaign for the very first time. A couple of guys from a web design agency called Bearded (Matt Griffin and Matt Braun) had decided create a documentary about the birth of the Web and needed some financial backing in order to do so. The title of the project and yet to be completed film was What Comes Next Is The Future. The idea spawned during the time in which web design began to shift from the desktop to mobile devices. The filmmakers found this to be a particularly exciting time much like the infancy of the Web. This was a major reason that they decided to make the documentary, which was to include interviews with several pioneers and well-respected individuals involved in the field in a multitude of different ways. They were even able to get an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee. In case you don’t already know, he’s the guy who created the World Wide Web.
The rewards that were offered for the Kickstarter campaign were that of a Web nerd’s wildest dreams (or maybe just my own): eBooks by Luke Wroblewski and Aaron Gustafson, access to the annual RWD Summit Web Conference and other workshops, free CodePen subscriptions, a guest spot on Andrew Clarke’s “Unfinished Business” podcast, and more, including 30-minute Skype calls or Google Hangout sessions with industry professionals. It was a veritable smorgasbord of rewards that left individuals like myself extremely eager to get involved. It was only minutes before my credit card was out of my wallet, and I made my first pledge.
In the end, my money landed on a contribution amount that earned me a t-shirt, both streaming and HD download access to the film upon its completion, and a 30-minute online video chat with Paravel founder Trent Walton. Paravel is the team that assisted Microsoft with the responsive redesign of their homepage back in 2012 that accompanied the launch of Windows 8. To say that I was excited at the prospect of speaking with Trent would be an understatement. I was stoked to be able to get advice from someone so experienced and well respected in the web design industry. At the same time, though, I was a bundle of nerves leading up to our conversation.
Now, at this point, I will admit that another reward option at the same pledge level did come up, and I [very] briefly considered making a switch. Creator of responsive web design and author of the talk and book that started it all, Ethan Marcotte, had also volunteered a 30-minute video chat. There was no way that I would have been able to talk my wife into letting me double my pledge in order to get both, though. I’m not even sure that you can do so on Kickstarter anyway without creating a second account, and it would have just felt wrong either way.
One of the benefits of the reward that I chose was the opportunity to have Trent review my work. However, and I still feel a little embarrassed about this fact, I honestly didn’t have any recently designed sites active on the Web at the time. It was akin to going to a financial planner when you’re not bringing in any income and have zero dollars to your name. Despite this fact, however, the advice that I received from him that day has stuck with me.
Failure IS an Option and Actually a Necessity for Success
For most of my life, I have feared failure. So much so that I have failed in the past because of it, and that has caused the fear to grow. (If that’s not irony, then I don’t know what is quite honestly.) It’s a vicious cycle that just continues to expand each and every time around. I often thought of it as a bubble inside of me that gets bigger and bigger but never pops. Or like a cancer that will eat me from the inside if I don’t at least keep it in check somehow.
I’ve also been a bit of a perfectionist to an extent for as long as I can remember. There was a period in my life with web design when if a site wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, it wouldn’t be seen by anyone. This was especially true after having graduated from a web design program through The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Even though I graduated with a 3.93 GPA, I still felt like the work that I was doing simply wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t up to par with other professionals in the field who I looked up to and admired; therefore, it was horrible in my mind. Self-doubt crept in and continued to hold me back.
I have never had a problem envisioning my own success. However, there’s a deep chasm filled with fear and self-doubt that often stands between me and my goals and dreams. The inevitable “what-ifs” appear and cause me to turn away and try to seek another path but always in the opposite direction, which leads me further from where I actually want to be. It’s pretty messed up if you think about it, but that’s what a fear of failure can do to you at first.
Enter my Skype chat with Trent. He was very candid as we spoke, which was refreshing and quickly put me at ease. Especially when he talked about founding Paravel with friends Dave Rupert and Reagan Ray. From his fears of putting his livelihood and theirs into a new venture to the sense of pride he gained from seeing them buy homes as the business continued to grow a few years later, he was very open and straightforward.
During our chat, Trent brought up a metaphor for Paravel that helped to push me in the right direction. A fan of U2, he talked about the strong friendships among the band members at the beginning of their careers despite their lack of talent at the time. Obviously, they went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world; and this was due in a large part to their love of music. They continued on despite not being very good when they got their start, and that passion carried them as their talent grew. Trent said that he thought of Paravel in sort of the same way. They were three guys, each with their own strengths, who combined their talents and passions for web design to make something great.
Another thing that I learned from my conversation with Trent is that I can’t do it all on my own, and that’s okay. I should seek help in the areas where I’m weakest. I need to focus on my strengths and utilize the incredible talents of others I know to fill in the rest. There isn’t an “I” in team and all that jazz. In fact, one of my biggest motivations has been a new logo for my company that was designed by an amazingly talented friend and graphic artist. It’s a design that I couldn’t have come up with myself and has become the focal point of my branding. That helped hold some of my fears of failure at bay.
I’m now beginning on a journey to start my own web design business, and I feel more confident than I ever have before. Sure there will be fear. Especially in the beginning, but failures are how we learn and how we become great if we stick with our passions and persevere. Just look at Thomas Edison and the light bulb. Had he given up after his 1,000th attempt, the history books would tell quite a different story today.
I want this new venture to be more than just a footnote in the story of my life. Even if the failures outnumber the successes, it’s the successes that will far outweigh the failures in the end as long as I don’t give up.
Oh and that whole fear of failure thing? Gone.