Don’t Fear Failure (2014 Retrospective)

Many people say that time flies. For me, 2014 has stayed as long as it was meant to, and I’m completely fine with that. As I bid farewell to this year and step into the next, I’m meditative on where I’d like to see myself in 2015.

Of course, nothing can shake my pensive mind more and cause me to reflect on my theme of the year than a throwback video on Youtube. This video is from the 2002 era Toonami, a block of animation that aired on Cartoon Network back in the day, between 5:00 and 8:00 pm. I used to race to the television just to watch this block of programming, and some of my fondest memories are experiencing the stories of Trunks, Gohan, Goku, and Vegeta as they trained themselves in order to fight for what they believed in. When I look back, I suppose I was doing the same thing myself. I was training in order to fight the battles of life, coming up against foes and bullies in school who told me I would never make it, and overcoming the obstacles to one day become who I wanted to be.

The years come and go, and while many people lament missed opportunities, inner demons, and failures, I embrace them and look to the future. Nobody knows how long they have to live on this earth, and it’s our day to day routines that usually cause us to forget that today might be the only day we have left. There might not be a future at all for some of us. How’s that idea for motivation?

But, I’m not so pessimistic.

There are always new things to look forward to. New experiences. New people to meet and new friends to make. And, most importantly to me, new stories to hear and many more to tell.

So, what is the theme of this year for me?

Whereas in the past my themes have revealed themselves long after the fact, I knew from the start that 2014’s theme was nostalgia. I wrestled mostly with the experience that Tolkien describes in his works, where I kept trying to get back to a moment that has been stamped into my memory where things lined up just-so. If you know anything about my creature comforts (my family knows all too well) then you will see that my space is filled with mementos and different things that bring me back to those moments in my memory. What looks like a strange collection of Lego sets, action figures, and books is actually a web of memory for me.

This year that collection has been my inspiration.

When looking at these many items as I moved, not once, but twice this year, I examined why these specific things evoked such an emotional response from me. What was it about that action figure of Goku on my shelf that made me drag him all over the place? Was it because I always wanted an action figure of Goku? As a child, perhaps it started out that way. But, now, as an adult (in body, not always in mind!) I realize that the figurine represents an ideal, a character who is honorable, loyal to his family, and willing to fight for the underdog. Goku also represents a man who is not afraid of failure. Even against the greatest foes, Goku will still give the fight his absolute best, because he doesn’t focus on failing, but rather on the hope that he will succeed.

Nostalgia can often bring us to mourn the loss of our childhoods. We want to go back and fix all the things in our past so that we can make our path easier, perhaps avoid certain losses, and create what we believe would be a happier present. But, this is not the purpose of nostalgia. The purpose of nostalgia is to inspire us to keep going. No person can go back and alter their past. Personally, I wouldn’t want to. Without our pasts, with all their trials and tribulations, as well as the good times that we cherish, we wouldn’t be who we are today.

Without being bullied throughout my school years, I wouldn’t have empathy for those who are persecuted. I wouldn’t have been as motivated to push myself to do better, to set loftier goals and accomplish them. If I were merely accepted, then I would have been happy to be good enough.

But, I don’t want to be good enough. I want to be challenged artistically. I want to be pushed to better my craft, and to better myself as a human being. As the video from Toonami says, we must not fear failure. Without failure, how would we know when we were getting it all right? How would we know that we did better than average? How would we know that we accomplished our goals, that we achieved something worth all our time?

I have faced a lot of failure in the past. There are moments where I thought that I was standing at the very bottom, looking up. What was the point of writing all these stories? What was the point of trying something if it might just end up a failure?

The point was in the trying. If I hadn’t tried, there would be no chance for either failure or success. I would just be exactly where I was to begin with. That’s not a very good position in my opinion! Remaining in one place without change is stubborn, ignorant, and sad. We should be willing to try new things, to experience something we have never done before, and to put ourselves and our art out there in the chance that someone else might gain something from it. After all, as with all the Toonami block of television, if those animators hadn’t faced the fear of failure and created a show that they believed in, it would have never graced my television screen back in 2002, and I wouldn’t have the figure of Goku on my shelf.

As we look forward to 2015, let’s continue to better ourselves. Let’s strive to be better human beings than we were before. Let’s devote ourselves to our craft, and let us tell the stories that we want to share with the world. I know I will, and I hope that you will be right there with me.

Failure is always a possibility, but we must not be afraid of it. Remember, there can’t be failure without success.

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