A Quiet Reflection on Failure, Part IV: Conclusion

POSTED Sat Jan.05.2013 by Dave Seah UNDER Musings, Personal, Productivity

Today I’d like to wrap up this article series. It started by recognizing that I was feeling like I had somehow “failed” to “succeed”, which was followed by a deconstruction of what that really meant. By Part III, I had a pretty good understanding of what was important to me, and in what ways I’d fallen short. I distilled this into four main criteria that I believed created what I wanted: a sense of satisfaction with my life.

The four criteria:

  • Did I blog about what I was passionate about? (yes, apparently so)
  • Did I achieve recognition? (yes, if you are reading this :)
  • Did I achieve financial independence? (no, not yet)
  • Did I complete big projects that personify my highest values? (no, not really)

The first two actually have started to come to fruition; I’m satisfied and encouraged by what I’ve accomplished here, and I can see it continuing to happen. It’s the last two that have not achieved critical mass, so 2013 will be focused on cultivating the new methods, habits, and attitudes that will bring them about. After writing the first three parts of this article, I have a pretty good idea of what that’s about.

So here in part IV, I want to establish some additional metrics that I can use to evaluate my quest for satisfaction.


The Dave Seah “Way”

I have known for some time that I value meaning in my work more than anything, including money. The reason that financial independence is important to me, though, is because it provides me with the resources to continue pursuing meaning in my work. You can take the boy out of the missionary family, but you can’t take the mission out of the boy, apparently (I’m the product of several generations of Christian missionary academics). My work needs purpose, and that purpose has to come from inside me. And this is not a spiritual requirement; I have great difficulty working on projects with unclear mission benefit, and I tend to evaluate the worth of benefits using emotional cues; if I personally feel excitement, or see someone else excited by what I do, that is the big payoff. If I don’t get that emotional payoff, or see my work applied, I tend to be less enthusiastic and productive.

Let me tie that in with the two main goals for 2013:

  • Achieve Financial Independence – acquired through work of value to others. Therefore I must work or create value to others. To work, I best function with clear mission benefit with emotional payoff, in areas that I find interesting.
  • Completing Big Projects – acquired through work of value to others. Therefore I must work and create high value. Big projects have deferred emotional payoff and unclear mission parameters, as the ones I am interested in are creative or novel in their approach.

It’s important to keep in mind that my overarching goal is to achieve personal independence through independent action. This is the cornerstone of the “David Seah Way”, which craves freedom for all people through productive, honest creativity. I don’t know where those values come from, but I recognize that they are deeply part of me. That’s one of the observations that have become apparent to me over the past seven years of blogging. I like knowing how to do things. I like being able to do them myself. I don’t like being slowed down.

The combination of financial independence and big projects reminds me of a book series I like, Orson Scott Card’s The Tales of Alvin Maker, featuring a world where some people have a magical “knack” that allows them to do some task to perfection. The protagonist, Alvin, discovers that his knack is universal in its power, but he has to go through a series of stages to achieve his dream of being a “Maker”, which is like being an ultimate creative. He becomes an apprentice to a blacksmith in the middle of the series, and for him to leave his apprenticeship he needs to create a “journeyman piece” that demonstrates that he has mastered all aspects of the craft. It’s only then that he is released and practice as an independent blacksmith. There are some parallels that I see in that aspect of the plot and what I’m doing. In some way, I’d like to become a Maker of something that has superlative meaning and value to myself and others who recognize it—this is the “artist” aspect of my personality. However, to become a Maker of that caliber, there’s this long apprenticeship that I’ve unknowingly put myself through. Since I was not aware I was apprenticing myself, I continually looked for some “end game” to my creative career wanderings. The closest fit for a long time was “Communication Designer “, which I stumbled upon some years back, but I later realized there was something missing: authorship. Being a designer often means working on someone elses project. What I really want to do is make my own things, a designer-inventor-creator that captures meaning (or maybe life itself) through his work. I could call that an artistic impulse, but it’s also a practical one too. I like the idea of making things by my own hand, and knowing that those things are of high value and quality. I also believe that the knowledge I need to achieve this will not be simply found in any books or lectures in the whole. Pieces will be acquired. However, it is up to me to acquire the experience in making and showing what I am aspiring to create.

For that, I need money and I need my journeyman pieces. There is no clear path or program of study that I can take to become the all-encompassing maker-designer, but I can at least finally admit that this is what I need to dare to do, and I want to do it on my own terms. I want to learn it the hard way, too…it seems to be the only way I really learn something well.

Values Defined

Getting back into the details, here’s what I think my values are. Again, they are subjective beliefs that I believe are true for me as a way of life. That’s not to say that these are true for EVERYONE; they are just MY strongly-held beliefs:

  • OPENNESS AND TRUTH BENEFITS EVERYONE: Sharing outstanding ideas, tips, tools, techniques. Sharing insight gleaned from personal experience. Attaining trueness through transparency, authenticity, and heart.

  • FREEDOM IS EARNED: I believe that I earn personal freedom and choice through the pursuit of competency and striving for self-sufficiency.

  • MASTERY IS THE WAY: By gaining comprehensive, crazy-detailed understanding of systems, attaining excellence through practice, working from knowledge gleaned from science and experience, and having the courage to persevere through fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Yearnings Defined

Yearnings are the frustrating gap between “living my values” and “what I’m actually doing right now.”

  • BE A CREATOR, NOT A TAKER: I want freedom, choice, competency and self-sufficiency. I want to be creatively independent and self-motivated. Right now, I don’t feel that I am where I want to be.

  • CREATE REAL WORTH, THE HARD WAY: I want to be an author/architect/maker, producing original/innovative/outstanding works, and be financially secure from doing this work. Right now, I’m doing some of the original work, but I believe I could be doing more.

  • PROVE THAT I CAN BE WHO I THINK I CAN BE: I want to overcome my fears, uncertainties, and doubts. I want to be part of a community of like-minded, like-hearted people. Right now, I am missing the BIG PROJECTS COMPLETED work that demonstrates what I believe is possible.

  • FIND OUT HOW THINGS REALLY WORK, AND MAKE THEM BETTER: I don’t want to accept limits, finding ways around them. I want to find my strengths and relative advantages. I want to uncover real universal secrets and apply them. I want to debunk bad advice, poor instruction, fakery and bullshit methodology. Right now, I’m writing about these things on the blog, but I could be doing a better job of making them discoverable by other people who are on the same search as I.

Reducing the Gap between Values and Yearnings

That’s the shape of what I want to do. To actualize them, there are three daily general practices I must follow:

  • WALK THE PATH: No more hiding at home! I must undertake the journey.

  • LIVE THE VALUES: I believe my values are only as good as my actions. I continue to pursue self-actualization and self-mastery, share what I know and am learning, building working tools and examples to help, finding like-minded people to commune with.

  • SEEK THE ADVENTURE: Ultimately, the adventure is creating something truly worthwhile in the face of difficulty. I’m looking for sustainable satisfaction that I can maintain by myself or with a few others, instead of staying in my comfort bubble of do-nothingness.

Embracing the Mindset and Starting the Adventure

Taking a step back, I need to remember that this is a multiple-stage goal. Ultimately, I want to be the free creating master. That’s going to take years. The simple recipe I think I need to follow is more like this:

  1. Take what I know NOW and learn how to create meaningful products, put them in the hands of people who need them, and receive something I need to live (money, expertise, etc) in return.

  2. Keep doing this, one tangible project after another, over the weeks and months of effort.

  3. Mastery and master works appear, slowly and unpredictably, but also inevitably.

I’m seeing it happen now, at a small scale. The more that I can make this work, the more sure I am that I am on the right path. In combination with my values, this is the Dave Seah Way. This is what I think life should look like, for me. I know that it probably isn’t very appealing to most people, but I can’t allow that to dissuade me from pursuing this flavor of the unknown. Finding out if this is possible to do is my passion. If it turns out that I can do it, that means others can do it too. And that would make me feel pretty good.

So to this end, I’m working on the first of several pieces, a daily customized planner based on the Emergent Task Planner design. It’s a bigger project than I thought, requiring that I cover a lot of unknown ground. For example:

  • What does it look like? Can it just be an ETP customized for every day of the year? What else can I put in it?
  • How do I automate and customize the creation of 300+ pages of e-book without spending weeks going blind in InDesign? Hello, XML integration!
  • How do I explain it to new customers?
  • How do I make it available for download in a way that is simple, reasonably secure, and not lame?
  • How do I integrate payment, customer management, download security, and shopping in one tidy bundle? Roll my own, or invest in an ecommerce system?

It’s been a chore to slough through these tasks. As I mentioned in previous parts of this article series, uncertain outcomes and deferred emotional payoffs are my toughest challenge in doing the work I need to do to get to the other side. However, with the statement of my values, yearnings, I now have created a form of self-affirmation that might help me get through with less friction. And, with the recent National Novel Writing Month experience, I learned to believe in creative process. Learning to embrace and then move through uncertainty is the very foundation of the creative process. Up to now, I have let problem solving and project management, two related skills, act as the defining metrics for personal productivity. While they are still important when it comes to getting things done, they don’t produce the kind of meaning that I want to imbue into my work. This may be an overly-subtle point; using a planner pad as an example, I don’t want to make a product that “tracks time efficiently with minimal data entry”. That’s a problem-centric approach. It’s not even “spend more time working on what’s important”, which is a perfectly-fine, benefit-oriented approach.

Instead, the message I want to convey is, This is you living the life journey you have dreamed of. We can do it. Here’s our next, best step.

And that, my friends, is where I want this all to go. With that, I think the emotional payoff is earned every time I remember that this is what’s important to me. For every step and every moment we fight the resistance, we are champions.

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Articles in the "Quiet Reflection on Failure" Series

  • Part 1, in which I ask myself what I've been up to for 7 years.
  • Part 2, in which I probe the nature of what I'm thinking of as "failure" to gain some sense of closure before moving on.
  • Summary of Part 1 & 2, a distillation of the main points in parts 1 and 2.
  • Part 3, in which I probe some possible new directions.
  • Part 4 Conclusion
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