Saturday, September 18, 2010

Y is for Youth

Like many people a few years separated from pre-adult life, I have regrets. I regret many things I have done in my life. I look at my youth and see good times and great memories, but I also see so many wasted days and missed opportunities. I see so many lessons either not learned or learned too late. But there is one lesson I think I may have learned just in the nick of time: Failure is a good thing.

Follow me here for a minute (or ten). I want to briefly tell a story of my greatest failure. And I want to explain to you how it was also one of the best things I ever did.

In the summer of 2006, after months of planning, my good friend and I hastily set out to open a pizza restaurant. We were called Wooden House Pizza, and we specialized in wood-fired pizza. After hastily finding a location, hastily procuring enough funds to start up the company, hastily tearing the building apart and hastily building it again from scratch, we made our very own pizza restaurant. It took months of sleepless nights to prepare for, but by September we were ready for our grand opening.

By offering 25 cents per slice (with a limit of two slices) and providing free music (from performers like Joshua James and Kid Theodore), we were able to get roughly two thousand people to come to our grand opening. People lined up for what seemed like miles to eat our pizza and enjoy our digs. We were the talk of the town, the cock of the walk. And I distinctly remember thinking, “I’ve made it.”

But when the dust of the grand opening settled, and we faced the realities of sustaining a restaurant, all of our hastilies caught up with us. By Thanksgiving the company was on life support, and by Christmas we were dead. The hastily put together pizza place was hastily put to bed. End of story. I was left broke, humbled, tired, and depressed.

It was an epic failure.

I had to borrow money from my parents to pay my bills, and I was literally eating little to none (especially once the pizza ran out). And I distinctly remember thinking, “I’ve made it . . . to hell.”

I wasted my youth with what I’ll call a failure phobia. Growing up, if there were two options—one easy and one hard—I always chose the easier path. Even if it meant spending most of my days bored and unsatisfied. I just didn’t want to deal with failure. When I finally went for it—as they say—my phobias were realized. I tried to do something special and I failed miserably. And the side of me from my youth that feared failure so much said something to the effect of, “I told you so.”

Sad, but true.

Well, a little after the pizza place died, I got an email from Square Magazine. They had apparently been planning a piece on Wooden House Pizza and our live music shows. Since the piece was now useless, they were emailing me to see if I would like a copy of a picture they made of Joshua James performing on our stage before they scrap it. I accepted the artwork, and on a whim I asked if they had any job openings. They said yes, and within a couple weeks after that, I was doing ad sales for them. People scared of failure don't usually take sales jobs. I was on the right track.

After I had been with Square for a few months, I got the itch to write for them. I had always liked writing, but . . . wait for it, wait for it . . . I never really pursued it (surprise, surprise). At first I was met with resistance, but after a couple minor pieces, I was given the green light to become a full-fledged writer for the magazine. I even got heavily photo shopped pictures of myself in the magazine, all of which came across as “funny”. Except everyone else besides me was laughing. But I digress . . . .The point was that my pizza failure humbled me enough to not worry as much about failing to write well. I mean, I had found hell—I might as well try to enjoy it.

Once I started writing frequently, I developed a style (as all writers do). Aside from my trademark poor grammar, I noticed I was always getting urges to drive my writings towards humor. I could occasionally say something useful, but I spent most of my time trying to make the reader laugh. I usually settled for making myself laugh, but regardless, I found the act addictive.

Before I knew it, I was writing material for a stand up act. My early stuff was really, really bad. For example: “I used to wear Polo clothes because I thought it was cool—I don’t even play polo!” Yeah, I was a regular Cosby. Frank Cosby, the idiot cousin of Bill. However, I was writing comedy, and I loved it.

Months later, after a few attempts at performing stand up for my family, I followed another whim. I heard of a stand up group at BYU called Humor U, and I heard that they had an open mic audition. With the urging of a supportive wife, and before it registered in my brain that I might be making a complete fool of myself, I went and tried the open mic thing.

And the weirdest thing happened: I didn’t fail. In fact, people laughed. And they clapped. And I even heard one guy say "he was alright". Before I knew it, I was performing in front of hundreds of people with a group of very talented comedians, and I was realizing a dream I never consciously knew about. And a part of me that I always ignored as a kid said “I told you so.”

I have since performed dozens of times for thousands of people with Humor U and elsewhere. Most recently, I have seen doors open that I never imagined. I am not actually at liberty to discuss details, but in the near future, I will be get opportunities to succeed in ways that are—to me—very fulfilling.

All because I tried. But perhaps more importantly, all because I failed.

The part of me that saw a failed pizza place and said “I told you so”—that same part of me that made all my decisions in my youth—couldn’t have been more wrong.

My epic failure really sucked. But if I hadn’t at least tried to create a successful pizza place, I never would have gotten the email from Square Magazine. And If I never tried the pizza thing, I never would have been brave enough to pursue writing at Square. And if I never pursued writing, I never would have gotten into stand up. And if I never got into stand up, I wouldn’t have the opportunities that are now presenting themselves to me.

I’m not going to pretend to know a ton about life, but I do know that all truly worthwhile things come through hardship. And hardships are synonymous with failure. I regret a lot of things from my youth. But I regret most of all that I didn’t fail a little more. Because for me to have failed a little more, it would have meant that I tried a little more. And even if you disagree with me, and even if this blog post is yet another failure, I am perfectly okay with that.

Frank Cosby