There’s a certain amount of failure that we, as adults, become accustomed to. It’s part of becoming an adult. We fail in love, we fail in school, we fail in jobs, we fail in reading directions the right way, we fail in not burning dinner from time to time, we fail in booking the right hotel… We fail. It happens. And we deal with it. We continue on. We walk through the rest of the day with that stubbed big toe or that paper cut on our finger or the burnt top of your mouth because you failed at waiting long enough to take that first spectacular bite of pizza.
Of course, when we say “failure,” we usually mean something so much bigger. We have other words for the small failures. We don’t say we “failed” in walking from bed to the bathroom when we stub our toe on the base of the frame. That’s just an accident. That’s just one of those things. If we turn right instead of left because we’re reading the map on our phone upside down, we blame the map. “The small computer in my hand should be able to tell which way I’m facing…” And we grunt and turn and quicken pace, blaming every sore nook of your tired foot on the phone. But it was your failure. And it was fine you failed in that moment. Failure is an inevitable part of being human. A great part. It’s what makes us resilient and strong and steadfast and how we learn and why we prosper.
But sometimes it tries to beat us. Sometimes it’s really strong. It’s overwhelming. Leading to days you can’t and won’t get out of bed, you can’t and won’t send that email, you can’t and won’t find a new job or leave your old job or ask your crush out or confront a truth. That’s the danger of failure. Not the act of doing it. We fail hundreds of times a day, but we do it to and with ourselves. It’s the over-powering, bone-crushing idea of it that bears down on us – the thought of explaining it to friends and family and bartenders and bus drivers and that neighbor who always seems to leave at the same time as you.
That’s where Evan finds himself today. In bed. Buried under the idea of a failure that isn’t even a failure yet. But, given his history, given the reality of the moment, he can’t see past something he’s convinced himself is inevitable. Failure. A big one. A good one. But he can’t see that yet.
Evan was born in Detroit in 1981. His first failure came before his first breath. Two, if we’re really nitpicking. First, he missed his due date. By nearly three weeks. That’s ridiculous. Then, in the midst of his thirty-six hour labor, he failed to keep his heart pumping and the doctors had to break plan and perform an emergency C-section. Of course no one would ever call this a failure. ‘He was a baby. He couldn’t control it.’ But, in reality, he failed to follow a simple birthing course-of-action that millennia of evolution and decades of medical advancement have nailed down to literally a science. And thus it began.
He was an adventurous kid. And imaginative. He loved creating intense and amazing quests with his imaginary friend, Peterkin. He loved to draw. He loved science. He loved to cook. He loved dinosaurs and music and flipping all of his mom’s pots and pans over, creating 20-piece drum sets that he wailed on with wooden spoons. He would have nightmares and get scared. He would run through mud puddles and ruin pants. He would pick flowers and stain his hands and shirts. And each of these things came with successes and failures. He was a little boy.
Evan was barely knee-height when he found his great love. His dad worked in advertising, and by four years old, Evan had spent plenty of time on commercial sets. He would visit. He would talk to the director. He would admire the props. He would act in them sometimes. And he fell in love with the organized chaos of being on set. So, he started creating his own. He would gather all his LEGOs and organize them around the room so he had a crew to talk to, then would build the backdrop and set up the actors and make sure they understood their intentions and characters. And then he’d create worlds and stories. It was everything.
As he grew, as did his passion and fire to devote his life to it. He made short movies with and for his friends. He went to summer camps. He started working at a small one-screen cinema when we was 12. He continued acting in commercials. He auditioned. He wrote. He knew it was what we would spend his life doing. And he was right. He moved to New York at 20 and began his wonderful decent into filmmaking.
For those unfamiliar, the world of film is one in which failure becomes a way of life. From actors auditioning, where a one-out-of-ten booking rate is considered Babe Ruth level good, to the pursuit of opportunities to write, direct, edit, crew a set, produce, to getting the financing to get a project made, to do anything within the field is a fight. And that’s before you even start getting paid for it.
There are days each of us question why we pursue this thing that slaps us in the face every chance it gets. It bleeds our bank accounts. It destroys our confidence. It monopolizes time and thought. It comes with some of the worst people imaginable in places of power, who lord it over those with the drive and the real talent like feckless gods on Olympus, taunting us with their mountain, making us believe it’s un-climbable, that you must be granted a pass to reach its peak. Yet, we do it. And we love it. And those days we get the chance to do it (and maybe be lucky enough to get a good paycheck for that day) make every moment of struggle, every slap, every gut punch worth while. It’s a sickness, really. One that we cherish and hold onto and revel in.
Evan was absolutely a reveler. He still is and will always be so. But, today, it’s trying to beat him.
Right now, Evan is a stone’s throw away from one of his ultimate goals in life coming true. He wrote a screenplay and it’s nearly green lit. (A green light is what a project gets when it reaches the minimum amount of money raised needed to film it). But, Evan’s been here before. Twice on this project. Seven times on a previous one that has yet to be made. And in between the two, there were great successes and goals claimed. But this ultimate goal seems to continue to dance and taunt Evan just a breath out of reach. And on that previous project, much like blaming your phone when you make the wrong turn, Evan had plenty of ways to shift the weight of it into anger or bitterness to make himself “feel better” about it.
“It was this one investor… If only they’d given us a chance… If only this producer was more forceful… If only this actor had read it on time… If only this agent hadn’t gotten in the way… if only… if only… if only…”
And each of those was somewhat valid. Was partially true. But, that’s the difficulty. The pursuit of ultimate goals can’t be easy. It can’t be achieved with one or two of the boxes checked. It’s an all or nothing game. It’s a leap not knowing if you can fly.
Evan had a great friend and bartender who loved that phrase and would use it all the time as they parted ways. Evan had failed to get the movies made on each of those occasions they had to “push” (to push is to shift the planned shoot to later dates as to give more time for fund raising). And each time, it hurt. It was an ultimate slap to accompany the ultimate goal. Because pushing comes with big risks; it’s often the first step in a project falling into the abyss of forgotten. Yet, each time, Evan would stand back up (usually after a night of tears and whiskeys), and he would make a new plan with new ideas and new insights. And he would get to work.
That’s where he’s stuck today. The phone is upside down and he can’t read the map. Nothing is making sense and all around him is a fog of impossibility. He’s moved on from the sadness of it not happening and has sunk into ‘even if it did happen, I don’t think I’m capable of pulling it off.’ His thick, dark comforter wrapped around him, attempting to recreate his first failure. If only he could go back to those moments before those damned doctors pulled him out and forced him into this life of failure and explanation- the constant struggle to keep pushing and keep trying and keep working towards something that seems to enjoy torturing him. And tears ride down his cheeks and mix into his overgrown beard…
Don’t worry. He gets up. He always does. He even gets to make the movie. But this is a moment a lot of us deal with. And it’s real. And it’s painful. And it’s… the worst. It’s also just a part of a process. Failure only really exists when you stop. When you don’t get up – ever – not just don’t get up today; sometimes you need a day or even ten, but you, at some point, get up.
It’s easy to think of one thing being one thing. And that when you fail, it’s done. But life’s not one thing. It’s all of it. So, once you get up, that thing isn’t over, it’s just in a fix right now. And you have the chance to keep going, to make it happen.
It takes Evan a few days to remember that. See? Even those who live in it constantly (and by choice) sometimes need a few days to see through the mess. And when he does remember, he also realizes he still has time. He still has another chance. And another after that. And if he needs, ten more after that. Which makes him smile and feel nauseous at the same time. Because he wants it now; he wants the joy and the fun to overshadow the struggle and the fight. And of course he does. We all do. It’s a dream. It’s a great dream. It’s the ultimate dream. Which is always worth pursuing… with everything.