The Best Ever Failed 63% of the Time

Ty Cobb failed 63.4% of the time, finishing his career with a .366 lifetime batting average. The ultimate benchmark for greatness for a hitter is the .400 mark, and that has only been eclipsed 26 times in history. Hell, some of the sports’ greatest hitters failed 72-73% of the time, and made up for it with the ability to hit homeruns.

Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson
Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson

I think life operates much like baseball does. What makes professional athletes so incredible is the resiliency required to perform at such high levels in pressure cooker situations when the odds show that you will fail more often than you succeed. They endure weeks-long streaks of failure and still figure out a way to dust themselves off and return to (relative) success.

Would your job keep you if you failed at your primary function for a week straight?

The reason that batting averages vacillate between .200-.400 is because of the high level of competition and the incredible skill required to hit a 4.5 ounce ball which is traveling upwards of 90 mph all the while moving laterally, dropping or changing pace as it covers the 60′ 6″ from the pitchers hand to the plate. Some consider it the hardest feat in all of sports.

In comparison, I just have to navigate clients, come up with some fun creative concepts, move some pixels around, and make some things look pretty. Success in my industry is measured by the ability to increase sales (and/or membership), effectively communicate and inspire a message, spark conversation with the design, and an increase in site traffic (or brand engagement, if not an online project).

What are the benchmarks for success in your life? In your career? When you fail, do you learn from your mistakes? How do you deal with failure?

Loss is research.

It’s not always straightforward quantitative research, but if you mull over the situation you’ll be able to figure out what went awry and why you failed if you are honest with yourself. That is the ultimate key. Self-honesty, if taken seriously, can provide the greatest insight into your own performance and weaknesses (strengths, too, of course). While there might be external circumstances adversely affecting you, figuring out what you need to change will always keep you ahead of the game.

As long as you are willing to fail, and learn, you’ll continue to find overall success.

What Did You Want To Be When You Growed Up?

Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing with your life? Are you happy with where you’re at? Do you have any regrets about the decisions that you’ve made? Many of us end up down far different career paths than what we envisioned for ourselves. While it’s not necessary that you follow that path your 10 year-old mind set out for you so many years ago, it is important to remember that you can (and should) always try to seek out the same level of joy and satisfaction you anticipated for yourself when you were younger.

All kids have dreams

I can remember as far back as five or six years-old telling people that I wanted to be a dad and a professional baseball player when I grew up. I worked at being a baseball player very hard as a kid along with all of the other sports you play like soccer, basketball and football, but baseball was clearly my love. Once I got to high school, I ditched the other sports and started playing year round.

After a mediocre high school career and my first long bout with tendonitis before my senior season, I went on to play college ball at University of Redlands, and majored in everything in the first two years: International Relations, Accounting, Economics, a minor in Chinese, etc. After a great sophomore season (easily the best in my life), I decided to transfer to a better baseball program and a school where I could study my lifelong love of architecture more seriously.

For some strange reason, I changed my mind and returned to Redlands days before classes started and quit baseball to focus on my education. In hindsight, walking away from baseball is the only regret I have in my life, albeit it a minor regret (I don’t really believe in the word, but perhaps that’s an entirely different article). Either way, this decision started things in motion that have brought me to where I am now.

There is life after the dreams change

During my sophomore season, one of my buddies was a transfer from Montana who was about as bright as they come. He was a writer, and since I’d always fancied myself the same, I kinda jumped in his back pocket and joined the campus weekly as a staff writer.

After baseball, I wrote much more extensively for the paper, and really started to feel strongly about my course of study. I was terribly interested in anthropology, environmental studies, and of course, writing. I rolled them all together and majored in Ecological Anthropology, with a minor in writing.

My senior year kicked off early and halfway around the world on the small islands of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Tanzania, East Africa. I was writing correspondence articles from abroad, and studying marine biology and coastal ecology with the trailblazing group of American students (the first group to live in Zanzibar).

My life began to feel focused. I was sure that a master’s degree, PHD work, and an academic future lie ahead. I could feel everything starting to come together.

Upon my return home, I took over as editor-in-chief of The Bulldog Weekly at Redlands, and began my education in Adobe programs as I helped transition the newspaper to a fully digital pre-press operation.

I had no idea that I was beginning my career in those late night editing and layout sessions.

Graduation brought with it a whole new level of confusion and question all surrounding the main theme: “What’s next?” I didn’t want to go back to school immediately, and I decided that temping at Wells Fargo, part-time shifts at Trader Joe’s, and healthy amounts of drunken frisbee golf would be the best bet.

Life was going smoothly until about December, when my first college loan payment notice arrived. Two nights later I stood up at a coffee shop – after probably 48 hours straight searching for editing positions, layout jobs, staff writer openings – and asked if anyone in the room needed a designer. I realized my incoming cash flow was not going to pay the bills, and was willing to do just about anything to find a job that I wanted to work.

Okay, so I’m a designer

Oddly, someone said “yeah, actually, we are looking for a junior designer right now.” I laughed, and double-checked to make sure that the guy wasn’t pulling my leg. But sure enough, he was serious. I interviewed a few days later, and started the job the following week. I’ve called myself a designer ever since.

I didn’t go to school for design. Even though I nearly transferred after my sophomore year to enter architecture school, and have sketched my entire life, I have no formal design education.

So, as soon as I started my career, I started reading HOW Design Magazine, devoured books by Steven Heller, Milton Glaser, and Paul Rand. I read on Helvetica, about Bauhaus, and fell in love with the institution of design. Without classes on color theory, grid, and typographic basics, I felt naked at times. My designs exposed my weaknesses, and I often cursed my inabilities to translate my ideas and concepts into well-executed design.

While I was able to get along and ultimately succeed without a design education, I’m not suggesting that is the right path for everyone. In fact, it’s an uphill battle for years and years without one. You have to constantly be improving and learning.

My career path since those early days slinging Photoshop for minimum wage (literally) has been filled with ups and downs. I’ve had a blast to be sure, and have learned a ton. I have since had a chance to contribute on a variety of articles about design, and a few years back had a chance to be interviewed by the first designer I ever read back in 1997, Steven Heller. That was the point when I felt like I’d arrived as a designer.

As for the original dreams?

I started playing competitive adult baseball a few years back, and really loved being back on the diamond. There’s something in me that just purrs when I get to compete physically. My soul really had a chance to heal playing baseball for the better part of 6 years, from the spring of 2001 until the fall of 2006.

I’m now married as well, and have two beautiful kids and a third on the way.

While slightly modified, my dreams as a five year-old have been reached. Being a father is the most important thing in my life, and I fill my need for competition and sports by staying active and by writing on Bleacher Report. I didn’t ever get to be a professional baseball player, but had I continued playing I can very safely say that I would not be where I am today. And I could not be happier where I’m at.

I did go back to school, to UCLA for a master’s degree, but that was put on hold when I started working at (mt) back in 1999. Someday, I plan to return, finish my degree and work towards that goal of becoming a professor some day.

Please, share your stories about your first jobs and what got you there. Did you take a critical path to get where you are (that is to say, for example, let’s take a designer: high school art classes to design school, intern with an ad agency, and climb the design ladder)? There’s no right answer. Share your experience and maybe you’ll have someone reply that you’re telling their story. It’s fun to find kinship in common experience.