Maybe 2017 won't be our year.
Last year was hard.
I wouldn’t say it was my #worstyearever, or even a bad year, really. Politics and celebrity deaths aside, in some ways, it was maybe my best year yet…
but, it was hard.
Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice, when given a deadline of only three more months to finish your doctoral dissertation, a project you’ve been “working on” for six years, it would be unwise to choose that same timeframe to also quit your job and start a new business. That is, of course, unless you’re a person who thrives under the right amount of pressure and tends to get more done when there’s more to do. In that case go for it! That’s how I spent the past year or so, and it was fantastic for my productivity.
It was not fantastic for my health, my emotional stability, my ability to be a good partner, the general cleanliness of my house, my friendships, and pretty much anything that was not directly related to my business or my dissertation. Those things were basically ignored for the better part of 2016.
This is not a complaint. I knew it would be hard, and it feels good to accomplish the hard things. Plus, now it’s 2017, and I have a sustainable business, an awesome team of coworkers, and I’m a doctor! But, I also feel like I got hit by a truck and I’m just starting to come to after the impact. I vaguely remember how I got here, and I’m glad I survived, but what now?
I generally start each January invigorated, with new ideas, tons of optimism, and more confidence than I deserve. For the past few years, Brown and I have had the same resolutions:
- Get jobs.
- Drive fast. Take chances.
Each year, we have kept these resolutions to greater and lesser degrees, and last year was no exception. This year, they don’t feel right. I don’t want a new job. I have my dream job tired as I may be. I don’t want to move. I want to downsize and get rid of excess. And, “Drive fast. Take chances”? I’d really like to replace that with “Drive home. Take a nap.”
Last year was exhausting, and if I’m being 100% honest, it was pretty scary at times. I’m grateful for all that I’ve gained, but what now? Is hiding an option? Preferably under a warm blanket?
I started writing this post on January 2nd, but I didn’t have an answer to the “What now?” question. So, I began to think hard about happiness, about success, about failure, and I scoured the internet for advice. I was hoping to find more than just motivational quotes and positive thinking. I wanted research. I wanted science. I wanted to find someone with answers, and I think maybe I did. Well, not someone, but someones.
When looking at examples of success, something odd happens. We tend to only look at success cases, and we commit an act of selection bias. There’s a term for this. It’s called, “Survivorship bias,” and whether we are talking about people, companies, or ideas, if we only look at the “successful” ones, we are committing a logical error by ignoring the failures.
Survivorship bias can lead to overly optimistic beliefs because failures are ignored, such as when companies that no longer exist are excluded from analyses of financial performance. It can also lead to the false belief that the successes in a group have some special property, rather than just coincidence (Correlation proves Causation). For example, if three of the five students with the best college grades went to the same high school, that can lead one to believe that the high school must offer an excellent education. This could be true, but the question cannot be answered without looking at the grades of all the other students from that high school, not just the ones who "survived" the top-five selection process.
We have plenty of examples of success out there in all industries, and marketing is arguably the most outwardly positive industry of them all. So, instead of setting new resolutions or focusing on the positive, this year, my plan is to set no resolutions and focus on the negative. I’m going to explore failure, and I invite you to join me.
If positive-thinking just isn’t cutting it for you, please follow Common People United on any of our social channels, sign up for our newsletter, and visit fallingcats.com, where we will be publishing various things related to failure, failing, and the connection to happiness. If you have any stories of significant failure that you’d like to share, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers to 2017, y’all. It might be better than 2016, but it could certainly be worse. Let’s make sure we’re prepared.