Frank Chimero on failure and loneliness
I wish I could have popped over to Portland, Oregon last week for the XOXO Festival ("an experimental festival celebrating independently produced art and technology").
Frank Chimero, a designer and author I hugely admire (but have never met), wrote it up in a post entitled The Inferno of Independence He says there was an unstated theme of XOXO that began to emerge after several talks:
XOXO’s talks had a deep undercurrent of mental health: dealing with stress, depression, impostor syndrome, and doubt. Emotions are good, especially when aired, and stress can be beneficial, but they are not meant to derail you. If the best, brightest, most talented and successful people we have in the independent community are feeling this way, clearly we have some corrosive expectations of ourselves and one another, and things need to change. We have a climate problem with personal consequences.
That's part of the reason I wrote this yesterday about some of the mental health issues I've experienced (and continue to experience).
In that post Frank wrote a paragraph that cut me to the quick:
Let me give you an example of a story I’ve been telling myself. I have a tendency to change my work every couple years. I’ve gone from packaging design, to user interfaces, to illustration, to writing. I’ve always shielded myself by saying, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” It makes for a funny meme, but you know what? I’ve tried this for years and it only trips me up and makes me feel worse. Fuck it.
I too have changed jobs every couple of years. Granted, I've never been an 'independent artist' but I have begun to wonder whether the issues I've experienced are purely in my head rather than objective facts in the external world (whatever that is).
Perhaps it's because before Mozilla I worked in institutions, places that privilege those with thicker skins than my own:
Your options are either to be armored and stationary, or nimble and vulnerable. Be safe and see nothing, or risk it and hope things work out. The choice isn’t even a choice for the independent little guy. You go nimble and vulnerable like a little mouse, because you’re not equipped to stand your ground like a rhino. That takes girth. That takes armor. You need to have something to protect, because standing still doesn’t gain you anything.
It's funny how successful people never talk about how just flat-out lucky they were to be in the right place at the right time? They always seem to ascribe some kind of personal agency. The current meme, of course, is about 'failing well/fast/harder':
You’re also told that you should fail harder, because failure is the gateway to success. Oddly, only successful people say failure is necessary, because anyone who has truly failed in a meaningful, unrecoverable way would advise you to stay away from that shit at all costs. Believe me, I know.
You should go and read the whole post as Chimero goes on to talk about some other important stuff. But, for me, this helps me understand just why I didn't fit in very well to formal education.