Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Benefits of Failure

Odd title, right? But so accurate. And a shameless rip off of J.K. Rowling's Commencement Address at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. Tomas Bryce linked me this speech a while back and it's well worth watching. So much of what she said rang true for me, especially this part:

"...the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success..."

The average person's idea of success... That sums it all. I've always had good jobs and respectable pay, which equated to contentment. I wasn't miserable, far from it. But I wasn't happy. Without happiness, is there truly success? The lack of misery kept me to that routine. I sometimes questioned if this is what I was meant to be, but I had already begun my slow death: I was getting "comfortable". I had just bought my 2nd duplex and was already planning an early retirement. The houses would be paid off by the time I'm 50 and the rental income from all 4 apartments, minus maintenance costs, would have me living comfortably. Great plan until disaster struck.

Out of pure stupidity, I had bought that second house without proper inspection, because I "trusted" the owner/seller who had also sold me the first house a few years before. I ended up with major emergency repairs to pay for. To make matters worse, a tenant in each of the duplex decided they weren't going to pay their rent anymore. With the Quebec Rental Board being extremely protective of tenants, it took nearly 5 months before I was rid of the first tenant, and 6 for the 2nd. Aside from that huge income loss from those 2 unpaid rents for half a year, I also had even more repairs to do in the 2nd tenant's apartment. He completely wrecked it then fled the premises a week before the judge finally granted me the eviction warrant. It was 1 week before Christmas.

Icing on the cake? I was working as a soundwoman in movie dubbing at the time. The industry entered a downward phase. Since we were unionized, layoffs were based on seniority. With only 2 guys hired after me, I was the third to go. Nobody moves in the winter in Montreal. So it was a few more months before I could find new tenants. By then, I was this close to losing both my houses.

It was a long uphill battle, but one I was determined to win. Movie dubbing was picking up again. The studio called me back but it wasn't the same. I already knew then that this wasn't it. I left them not too many months later for a better paying job. One day, looking for a 2nd part-time job to help get back to the "comfort" zone I once had, I stumbled on a job opening as QA Tester for Ubisoft. The schedule didn't fit mine but it got me browsing their site. And that is how I discovered they had just opened a campus in Montreal. The enrollment period for next year's students was ending in 2 or 3 weeks.

At the time, my head really wasn't into putting together a portfolio, but I knew I had to. Thank God for the events I had organized as a player in UO or I wouldn't have known what to send them to try to convince them I had "the right stuff" to be a designer. It was many months before classes started but the timing was perfect, just when I got my finances back under control.

What I got from this ordeal is: 1) it's ok to fail as long as your learn from it (namely don't ever trust a Realtor, spend that extra $500-$1000 and get a proper inspection!); 2) don't let failure defeat you but rather consider it as an opportunity to reassess yourself, your goals and explore ways to reach them. If not for all that mess, I probably would have remained in movie dubbing for a long time, and never truly been happy; 3)Never give up. I never lost hope (though I confess it wavered a lot) and it paid off as didn't lose my houses. Last but not least, 4) it was the trigger that sent me on the path to achieve the dream I had as a little girl of becoming a designer. If not for this, who knows how many more years may have passed before I realized there was finally a game design program in Montreal? By then, I might have considered myself too old to go back to school. God knows I wasn't the youngest at the campus! Yet if not for graduating from the program and working in the field in Montreal, I never would have qualified for the immigration requirements to work in the US.

Pain can sometimes be a much needed wake up call and a blessing in disguise.


Tomas Bryce said...

You share something with JK Rowling :)

Regine "Sakkarah" Abel said...

I think at one point in time, we all do, one way or another. I'm just glad that time of my life is over. Wasn't much fun :P