Like most writers, I find it easier to list my failures than I do my successes. But there’s one exceptionally wonderful quality I have– I can find the positive in almost any situation. What that means is that even though it’s easy for me to list where I’ve failed, it’s equally easy for me to spot the good that’s come from it.
A lot of successful writers will advise you to look back on the year and list your accomplishments. We’ll do that tomorrow. Today, I want you to list your failures, your setbacks and your disappointments, and then I want you to examine them closely and come up with two things: the good that came from them and the lessons you learned.
I’ll go first.
1. What Happened:
I moved to Mumbai. I didn’t like my life there. I moved back to Delhi. I felt like a complete loser. Not only had I disrupted my own life, but of those around me, and I had failed miserably in all my relationships. Again. Of course, this failure was all in my own head, and the people around me were all very supportive and understanding of my choices. Looking back, I’m extremely glad I moved. I’m also extremely glad that I didn’t stay for long. But at the time I felt like the most ridiculously indecisive person on the planet.
The Good That Came From It:
(1) I met a few of my editors in person.
(2) I fell head over heels in love with Mumbai. I had visited the city before, but never really experienced it. I now plan to visit every year.
(3) I realized how much I love and miss Delhi. I always said I hated Delhi and couldn’t wait to leave. It was in Mumbai that I understood how attached I am to this place.
(4) It is solely because of my experience in Mumbai of starting a new life that I have come to my current decision. Consider this my official announcement: I’m moving again. (I’m not at liberty to disclose anything else at this point. Soon though. Very soon.)
If you’ve made the wrong decision, accept it and change it. Don’t let ego stand in the way of good sense.
2. What Happened:
Without going into too many details, an idea for an series I’d been working on for over a year and had trusted a colleague with, was stolen. The person took a small but important part of the series, which meant that even though I’d eventually be able to do it, it would be old news. I will, as a rule, never touch a story that’s already been published in national media, so this was a huge setback for me.
The Good That Came From It:
(1) I was so angry, so upset about this incident, that I immediately went into overwork zone. If my ideas were so great that they had to be stolen, I would come up with a hundred, dammit. You know what? I sat down in front of my computer for two days, and didn’t get up until I had come up with one hundred ideas. I kid you not. One hundred. I have since pursued some of them, and am working on others. My list has grown even more, and since these are important and timely stories, I’m actually asking some of my writer and photographer friends to do them instead.
(2) After I got some perspective on the situation, I realized that my series wasn’t really going anywhere. The person had taken one part of it, but I still had hundreds of pages of research and notes and no clear organization. I broke up my series and started pitching stand-alone pieces. These have since earned me assignments from at least five international publications that I’d been dying to break into.
(3) After a few weeks, I e-mailed the editor of the publication where the colleague had published the story, and sent him some ideas. He has since given me work and become a good friend. He has also introduced me to more editors at that publication.
(4) A friend said it best: “That’ll teach you to sit on an idea for a year and then open your big mouth.” Indeed.
What happens happens. If you can’t change it, figure out how to benefit from it.
3. What Happened:
I quit journalism. It was due to a variety of factors: I learned that people I had been working with had acted unethically repeatedly, I’d been stabbed in the back too many times by too many people, and the depressing stories I worked on were beginning to have a personal affect on me. I didn’t make any official announcements, but stopped pitching, and instead started working on a novel. I wrote about 20,000 words.
The Good That Came From It:
(1) I was missed. I was told I was missed. My editors asked me why I hadn’t been sending story ideas, when I would be back to work, and some came up with ideas of their own that they wanted me to do. I won’t lie. It felt fantastic. (I rejected the work though.)
(2) I’ve always said I’ve wanted to write a novel. I never truly believed I had it in me. Now I’m sure I do. I will finish that novel one day, but…
(3) I got distracted. By journalism. I have sources in some communities who call me when something of interest happens. I received one such call from a source. It was for a story I had been thinking about for months, and had asked him to tell me more about it. He had some new information and his call came at a time when I couldn’t be less interested. Yet, I spent an hour on the phone with him asking questions, and jotting down names and numbers. By the time the next day rolled around, I had done sufficient research on the topic to know there was a brilliant story there. And what do you know– one of my editors loved the idea as much as I did and immediately handed me the assignment.
The novel will have to wait. My true love (for now) is journalism.
Anyone else want to share their failures?