Being a successful failure

Alfred, Lord Tennyson once wrote (among other things)

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Which some folks have failed in remembering, attributing, and quoting as some variation of:

It’s better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried at all

I’ve even heard that Abraham Lincoln himself was some kind of colossal failure (which isn’t entirely true, by the way) until he became president. Which is, I guess, supposed to make me feel better about any mistakes I might make or hardships I might encounter, because some day I’ll be president! Then I’ll probably somehow stop making mistakes and be the most best president of all time… at least until some other joker gets elected.

But what does that have to do with this website, or video games, or anything else?

More than you might think.

For the last 11 years or so, the network of sites (including this site, this site, and this site, which have all been archived) have taught me a lot. Each of those sister sites that I’ve started over the years scratched a particular itch, and none of them became what one might call successful. But I have learned a lot, and if you don’t mind a little navel-gazing, some of the lessons I’ve learned include:

  • How to set up and run a web/email server in a non Microsoft Windows environment (Hello, all the website software that I tried to use)
  • How to restore your web/email server from a backup once it’s compromised
  • How to secure a web/email server and keep it up to date
  • How to create a blog post every day for 500 days in a row
  • How to set up and administer bulletin board software
  • How to capture and edit screen shots and videos to teach people how to do something they might not otherwise know how to do
  • How to run a collaborative blog
  • How to objectively talk about what I like and don’t like about video games
  • And more things than you probably want to read about here

But what does all of that mean? Not much. I’m not president yet, and nothing I’ve done on the Internet (with a couple of exceptions) made much of a ripple. In fact, it seems like the lesson might be that: You can’t have success without hard work and determination, but just those two things alone won’t make it happen. There’s a bit of luck involved in being in the right place at the right time.

Stated another way. It sometimes seems like it’s possible to have a dream, chase it for years, work as hard as you can, and still fail to achieve it because circumstances favored some other person with the same dream.

So it’s very easy to become bitter and jealous. To look to those who have success doing something you like to do and are good at, and realizing that no matter how many hours you invest in doing the same thing (or something related), you won’t be as successful (or famous, or rich, or paid), if you’re successful at all.

Which is kind of a bummer.

Until you start to reflect on the journey. Until you think back at all the things you’ve learned along the way. The ways you’ve honed your craft, the techniques you’ve discovered, streamlining your workflow, growing as a person, and finding what makes you happy and sticking with it. Most of the time you can’t force success. It either happens or it doesn’t, and most of the time it doesn’t. But it’s pretty obvious that success never comes to those who don’t try, and I’ll keep trying to have a successful website until the day I die. Or the Internet collapses. Whichever comes first.