Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Finding Success in Failure

A good friend of mine died recently.  Fabio had cancer for the last 5 years but never quite drove it into remission.  The constant drugs and surgeries eventually took his life.

Fabio’s life couldn’t be more different from mine.  My professional life takes place in a chair at a screen, his took place outside in the open air.  I ride mountain bikes for fun to relax from the stress of work.  He was a truly world-class professional cyclist.  In his youth he was Italian national trials champion moving on to work full time in the bike industry as a product tester and product manager, finally starting his own business in SF.

Fabio seemed to have no limits on a bike.  Going for a bike ride with him was usually fodder for a story that started with “This one time, Fabio …”.

For example, there was this one time Fabio rode along a fallen tree that was about 15 foot above some abusively sharp rocks, clearly representing impending doom.  Once at the end, he hopped over a giant mound of upturned roots and back onto the trail in front of me.  I watched this from below as I cautiously walked my bike over the same rocks.  The magnitude of this can be expressed easily in words, you kind of had to be there.

Or this one time, Fabio rolled up to a 20 foot drop that most people would think twice about standing on top of, let alone consider it something to ride down. Unbelievably, I watched as Fabio rolled into the most casual vertical dive before pulling several Gs at the bottom, without even checking out the drop. His first words were “Did you get a good shot of that?” all the while with a smile on his face.

This is made all the more incredible when you consider he would do these things while treating cancer with plastic tubes digging at his insides, scars through his stomach and all sorts of chemicals pumping through his veins.

When he died I considered which one of these feats of daring had the most influence on me.  It turns out it was actually something very mundane and small.

This one time Fabio fell off his bike going around an easy corner.  I saw it happen.  It was because his front wheel fell out from under him because he was pushing his speed so hard.  This is a corner that most mortals like myself would ride virtually upright around, since the chance of falling on its wet roots was high.  I couldn’t believe he hit the corner at such a high velocity.  The fall obviously hurt, but Fabio brushed himself off and just kept going.  I asked if he was okay and he told me he’d been falling like that since he was a kid, so no worries.  In fact, he went on, if he didn’t take a fall like that at least once during a ride he wasn’t trying.

Without those little failures he wouldn’t have pushed his skills far enough to be able to do take on those bigger challenges.

There was an acceptance that failing was part of the process to ultimately succeed.

He didn’t dwell on the consequence of the fall.  He let his muscles absorb the knowledge of the limits of traction, but he didn’t allow his mind to linger, instead he was looking for the trail ahead and the next massively impressive stunt to conquer.

Now what does that have to do with making games?  We all spend so much time at work that it’s hard to not see that our general attitude to life bleeds into everything we do.  So now, I give myself permission to go beyond my own limits everyday, knowing that I’m probably going to fail once in a while.  But more importantly I try to encourage and empower others to push beyond their own limits too.  Like teaching my kids to ride their bikes, I have to fight the fatherly instinct to protect (aka micro manage) and learn to let go and see them take their own small spills as they fight for achievements far greater than anything I could have hoped for.

Fabio's influence then, I hope, is being felt by not only me, but also my family at home and at work.  Thanks Fabio.

- Jason Woodward
Executive Producer, Kiwi, Inc.

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