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November 16, 2006


I have failed. I fail every day, all the time. I love failing. Through failure I get better and better. It takes a lot of courage to fail. Any time I have a chance of failing I feel a bit of fear but often I just step in and do it. I know from experience what is always on the other side of that fear: a higher level of mastery and more peace.

I used to try to set things up so that I'd never fail. I would cautiously tip-toe around and over-plan everything. I would make decisions that maximized certainty and minimized risk. If I failed I wouldn't admit it, to myself and certainly not to others. Now I really understand about the value of risk and of failing. The willingness to fail is the attitude that leads to greatness. The acknowledgement of failure is the key to learning. The repeating cycle of willingness to fail and acknowledgement of failure is the path to great accomplishment.

Becoming a stand-up comedian has really helped with this. To get on stage in front of a crowd of people which has the expectation that you're going to make them laugh is a very big risk. I can plan and practice to make myself intellectually comfortable with the idea but when I actually do it there's still a feeling of fear. I've stood on stage and told a joke and had no response, just silence. I had a choice at that moment: to deny failure or to accept it. I said, "Oh well, I guess that wasn't funny." And they all laughed.

I know how to recognize stage-death when it starts to happen; there is a sequence of events which lead up to it. I haven't died on stage yet but the process of becoming better always involves a part of me dying. I have to let go of old things in order to grasp new things. I have to let go of the idea that I am funny to reach a new level of humor.

When I do something which I've never done before, there is a risk of failing. I can't get good at something unless I practice doing it however. Doing something actually enables me to learn what works and what doesn't in doing that thing. I can read about the thing I'm going to do and I can get advice about it; those things can be helpful but they don't teach me how to do it; only doing it can teach me how to do it.

Not only do I learn what works in general by doing things the scare me but I also learn what works for me; I find my own style and create my own genre; I discover what I like and I find what I am passionate about. I was comfortable architecting computer chips but instead of just doing it the same as everyone else I developed my own style. Initially my ideas were rejected and on some level I seemed to fail but because I followed what I felt was right, and I persisted, I created many new ways of doing things. I'm the inventor of four issued US patents and a dozen or so pending. To create something new it's necessary to do things differently.

I was on my own in a bar recently and I went to sit down with a group of people. It was a private party in a cordoned-off section of the bar. I just walked in and sat down. At the table were four women and two men. I introduced myself and started talking. Simon, who had organized the party, was very friendly to me and was in awe of my courage to go in and sit down. It was the birthday party of his girlfriend, Louise, who sat opposite. Louise seemed very keen to find out who I was. I met two women at that table who were in the comedy business, one of whom was the booker for a chain of comedy clubs; I got her number.

Did I fail in that bar? I did make a very important business contact and I met some really lovely people but I did also fail. I found it hard to keep a conversation going. I can talk very passionately when I'm not trying but that night I ran out of things to say. I left on a high-note about ten minutes after arriving.

I could just sit at home and take no risks but I choose to know myself. The only way to know myself is through experience. I cannot intellectually define myself, create some label for myself, and call it done. I can only know myself through experiencing myself; in this body and through its interaction with the rest of the universe. This is the destination and the path: to continually challenge any conceptions of what I am and to step deeper into life.

I used to think that Mozart had some kind of magic gift that I could never have, that he was born with something that made him special. I now realize that we are all born with something special; we're all born with a gift; we just need to be encouraged, or encourage ourselves, to use it. Mozart's gift was a fascination with music. Mozart wasn't able to play the harpsichord at birth; he had to learn, and his father taught him. He had to learn to read music and to compose music as well. I'm sure he failed a lot; people like Mozart experience a lot of failure. I used to think that he was just lucky. I thought that he'd just been great at music to start with. The truth is: he was just fascinated by music, he risked a lot, and he failed a lot. I refuse to label people as child prodigies as a way of excusing my own cowardice.

"I'm quite a cautious person so will take some risks but not others although now I want to go take some risks! Ta again for the inspiration." — Kelly (Brighton, UK)

"I think this is one of your best writings. It's insightful, engaging, real, to the point and inspiring. So many things covered in such a short time." — Charley (Santa Cruz, California, USA)


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