Failure has a signature

I started skateboarding when I was 11 years old. A few months from now, I’ll turn 30. And I still have a skateboard lying in my car… For when the mood just hits me.

I grew up with this dream and this vision that, one day, I’ll be a professional skateboarder and live the dream. It was always going to be a long shot. The only difference between that dream and today’s reality is that when I go out to skate, nobody is paying me to do it. But I’m still as committed as I was as I was when I was still a kid. Still as committed as I would have been if I had ever made it to be a pro.

So how can I tell? Because every time I miss a trick and I fall down, it hurts like hell.

When you’re on the board, shredding it up, you’re not thinking about an exact set of instructions you need to do your trick. There’s no real instructions*. Only that feeling in your body that makes things move. Your body just translates energy into motion. When you prepare for a trick, you envision what it’s going to look and feel like. And then you just do it. No second guesses, no unnecessary waiting around.

Whenever you pop the board, you’re committing to this idea that you’re about to jump up and that wooding plank will follow you and do some kind of cool movement and that you’ll manage to catch the board at the right point in time so you can land on it and ride on afterwards. Just thinking about this shows the magnitude of absurdity. Yet we do it all the time.

However, there’s no fail-safe. When you pop that board and things go wrong, you miss the trick and chances are real that you’ll fall. And no matter who you are, concrete is not a soft surface. That stuff is not exactly made for soft landings. Whenever you fall, it hurts.

However I’ve started noticing distinct differences in pain after missing the trick and hitting the floor sideways. Sometimes, my mind wasn’t fully focussed; not fully committed to the moment. Whenever I’d pop the board, I’d almost immediately know that this time, things would go wrong. And I’d stop trying to complete it. I’d bail out of it —way ahead of time?—?and just land on my feet. The board would trip on the floor and that would be it. The difference being that when I’m fully committed to a trick, there would be no moment of backing off until it’s too late and gravity would have already taken over.

I learned that every time that I’d try to complete a trick without being fully committed —because I was preparing for a probable failure— , I wouldn’t fall as hard. Which was great in the face of pain. But it also reduced my chances of actually landing a trick. Because I was not only thinking about the actual trick. I was also thinking about my backup plan.?Whenever I would not fully focus but leave room for error?—?prepare for the moment when things would go wrong— they would go wrong. And it wouldn’t come with a lot of pain.

While, when I focussed every fibre in my body to that very moment, that very trick; when I’d pop that board with every bit of attention, I’d either land the trick… Or I’d find myself lying on the floor in agony. Because I wasn’t prepared to fall down.

Skateboarding thought me one thing that is very much like being a freelancer/business-owner/entrepreneur (pick your choice): The amount of pain that goes together with your failure reflects how committed you were to making it succeed.

Try hard. Fail hard.

*Of course there’s some sort of instructions to doing skateboarding-tricks but those are more step-by-step guides than they are hard instructions that guarantee success. I just want to make that plain.


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Ronny is a freelance frontend developer with a wild passion for creativity and a relentless hate against flat design. Ronny spent years as a Flash developer before moving to HTML5 and rediscovering fun and happiness.

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