In today’s world, teeming with motivational gurus and self-help pros willing to share their tips on how to become super successful, I am a misfit. I am the fallen angel you missed in the Bible of life. I will not take you down the scenic tree-lined path to success. Instead I will talk about the one thing that scares the living daylights out of you, the one word that you fear and loathe the most: failure.
Sure, many of your gurus have touched upon failure they faced when they struggled. But what about failure that comes after a long and illustrious career? I am not talking about you tripping on some silly mistake or bad judgment along the way, getting up, dusting yourself off and moving on. I am talking about the almighty fall from the top of the cliff right into an endless pit. You can’t even dust yourself off, because you haven’t stopped falling yet. It’s a constant, agonising, torturous fall. And the fact that I am standing in front of you today and not in a heap is proof that I survived it and lived to tell my story.
I would be lying if I told you the thought of ending my life didn’t cross my mind during some moments of weakness, but my religious beliefs and the mere thought of never seeing the family I love again held me back from the parapet of despair.
Let me help you reimagine success and failure metaphorically. Success is all those amazing friends who show up at your party, cheering you on, basking in your glory, eating your food, dancing with reckless abandon. Failure, on the other hand, is the friend that stays back and helps you clean up; it tells you stuff your ‘amazing friends’ would never have told you. But because you are high as a kite (success can be so intoxicating), failure’s words of wisdom seem bitter.
Let me shake you up a little from your slumber. Failure is your closest friend. Success only told you to take, it only gave you a fake sense of supremacy. But failure actually wipes your tears, sits you down and gently tells you where you have gone wrong. And it stays with you until you are out of the woods.
Failure never minces words. You could turn a deaf ear to it and wallow in self-pity. Bitch and moan about how the world brought you down. And while you are blaming others for your downfall, ask yourself this really important question: “Did you ever give credit to the world for your rise, Mr. Self-made Man?” No? Then you have no right to whine about the world being behind your failure. Simply put, it’s now entirely in your hands. And I am no saint, folks. I had my moments of pointing fingers at the world. I will say this with absolute certainty, that the world, my advertising world, is one ruthless place. When you are on top, sitting on that seat of power, you are king. But Heaven help you when you lose that throne and are plunged into exile.
Whatever I tell you is from my best friend failure. Failure sat by my side when I tried to reach out to all my industry friends for a job. For every email that rejected me, failure told me never to give up. It held my hand and kept telling me, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” And I would look it in the eye and say “I have won 60 international awards, I was ranked second in the world in 2012, I was a legend. How can they do this to me?” Failure looked at me with tearful eyes and I realised my folly. I was still clinging on to the success that had left me. Still holding on to memories of it.
Letting go wasn’t easy, trust me. It’s human nature; we all live off our past achievements. But the keyword here is ‘past’. I had to break free from it. I had one choice: to perish or persist. And to persist with life, I had to kill myself.
Relax! I am not going suicidal. I am talking about killing the man I once was. I had to rise from the ashes. It was either be repudiated or be reborn. I started working on my rebirth.
I knew that while emotionally I was a total disaster, professionally (and creatively) I had evolved. I was bursting with path-breaking ideas. I was more enlightened now than I ever was in my heyday.
Once the new me was conceived, the gestation period wasn’t too long. Seven years with failure had made me patient. Surely I could wait for a few months. The period of unlearning was amazing. I stepped out of my comfort zone and tread a different path.
It felt odd in the beginning to start all over again at 50. What exactly did I choose to do? When all you do is sit and wait for opportunity to knock on your door, you’d better make the best chair to sit on. And that’s exactly what I did. I followed my new calling: chair design. Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks needs to get bitten by a rabid dog. I taught myself how to use SketchUp Pro to create unique, one-of-a-kind furniture, and Keyshot to render photorealistic images of my creations.
It gave me immense pleasure. I felt alive again. I felt like a new person. I worked night and day honing my skills. I was always notorious for my ability to come up with shockingly simple and original ideas, so it was a very easy and natural progression. The principles of creativity were the same.
I went on to create furniture that was unique, simple and highly conceptual. I wanted the lines between art and furniture to blur. I set out to create furniture that was original, unique and thought-provoking. It was a modest start. And the most amazing thing about it was not having to carry the baggage from the past. I was new. I was fresh. I was unsure. And the anticipation of being on a new journey made me feel young again.
The remarkable thing about this new journey was the absolute absence of the fear of failure. Why would I be afraid of my best friend? In fact, when failure proudly looked at the body of new work I had done and silently started packing its bags, I yelled at it, “Where do you think you are going?”
“You don’t need me anymore. Success awaits you at the end of this path,” it said.
“I have the perfect place for you my friend. Deep inside my heart. Where I can listen to you and continue to learn from you,” I implored.
So, you see, it’s not hard. I may not find success again. But the only thing that will keep me going is… my friend failure. I promise, I won’t sit still. Not even on the chairs I make.