The Art of Failure

This topic is near and dear to my heart because this blog would not exist if not for the failures that brought me to create it in the first place. So buckle up and get ready to read some depressing self depricating nonsense – just kidding. But seriously this article is not for the faint of heart. I hope that my struggles can help you see your own in a light that breeds positivity and improvement. So without further ado let’s get down to the business and art of failure.

Let’s wind back the clock to 2015 for a moment. I had been living in Los Angeles pursuing a professional acting career since graduating college in 2013. By all accounts that career was going quite well, at 23 I had landed my first principal role in a television show, a lead in an indie feature film and several other speaking roles in various non union projects around the LA area. I didn’t have a free weekend from March until August because I had so much acting work booked ahead of time.

But I wasn’t happy. I was on set just to collect a paycheck. It wasn’t like I thought it would be when I realized at 13 I wanted to perform for the rest of my life. Rather instead I was smoking quite a large quantity of marijuana and resenting myself for not having more success than I already had. Every chance I got I was hosting local parkour jams and training sessions and canceling auditions that my agent set for me. What was wrong with me?

I was on TV! I had speaking roles with funny lines and I got paid to act in Hollywood. But when I wasn’t on set I was bussing tables in Burbank and writing rap lyrics like nobody’s business. Every pore in my body was trying to escape what I thought was the life I wanted for myself. Something about helping other athletes move was more appealing to me than the jobs that paid my bills.

One day my boss came up from behind me like a ninja and just watched as I stood there depressed and unmotivated to do the job that paid me more than I’d ever made in my life. So we sat down and talked for a while and came to the mutual understanding that I would no longer be working for them. I used that last paycheck and bought a camera to put all my energy into finding a niche in the parkour world that could be make me relevant to the community I cared so much about. I had no way of knowing where that journey would take me. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I chose a life without comfort.

By the end of 2015 I was out of work and as of December 31st I could no longer could afford to pay rent at my apartment in Downtown Los Angeles. So I started 2016 by attending a New Years party in the Hollywood Hills with all of my possessions packed in two backpacks in the coat room. For the next several months I would bounce from friends’ floors to their couches, losing jobs, friendships, self esteem and everything in between.

But I still had my camera and that would take me all over the world (okay mostly North America but also South Africa!) I offered to do event photography at most of the large national jams in the United States. I became obsessed with the idea of providing value to the existing parkour businesses and providing services that would make it easier for future businesses to be created. But my road was meant to be paved with more failures than successes.

“Fear was an old friend, and failure had spare keys to my apartment.”

Over the next 2 years I would attend the first WFPF Las Vegas Pro Am, TIT Jam/JumpFest, Colorado Nat Jam, Floor Jam, Beast Coast, Obsidian Gathering, Hubbable, Movement Creative events, as well as countless small jams across the United States and Canada (including many One With Nature Jams that I threw as well). For many of these events I would offer to take photos, sometimes paid and sometimes free – both to increase my skill set and networking within the parkour economy.

My camera was my way of asking a business owner out to coffee, it allowed me to fill a niche that I saw unfulfilled because most other people holding cameras were taking video. And I hate editing footage so I was never going to make that work. Photography was my contribution where most other offers of services I made fell flat. I tried consulting for social media services, content campaign strategizing, influencer marketing tactics, blog writing, video interviews, documentary film making – but every time I found myself back to my camera when the rest fell flat.

One of my great online mentors (Gary Vaynerchuk) often says “Stay in your lane”. Meaning find what you’re good at doing and triple down on that strength until the world works the way you want it to. But I have no idea what I’m both good at and want to do. The only thing I’ve ever been is a performer, so who I am is as fluid a concept as what I want to be. This realization has often led me to fail where others would be unwilling to try in the first place. And though it is often difficult to do so, it is important to recognize failure as a strength, an art form all to itself to be appreciated and respected equally to success.

I realized I couldn’t pursue acting purely for money – because that was more of a lie than the truths I found in made up characters. What I needed to find was solutions to help the parkour community increase its growth rate so that these individuals that I call brothers and sisters never have to work at WalMart if they don’t want to. That singular purpose has driven more than anything since the first standing ovation I received from performing onstage. That willingness to fail forward if it meant behind me was a legacy that allowed others to live a better life. Even if I’ve failed along the way, I made an effort and did what I could with what I had.

Homeless, drug addicted, self doubting and lost in depression I brought creativity, laughter and encouragement to individuals in over 25 states and 2 Canadian provinces. With $25 a week for groceries and less than 100 nights sleeping in a bed for 3 years – I did what I could to understand how I could provide opportunities for the people that made me proud to move and laugh and live. And that doesn’t make me feel like a failure, it doesn’t make me feel brave, it just makes me feel like I tried to do something worth doing.

“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

– Stephen McCranie

What I learned is it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to do something as long as you do it. It doesn’t matter how far down your rock bottom is because there’s no better foundation to build from than solid ground. So try not to be so hard on yourself if your parkour team hasn’t sold all your last batch of shirts. Don’t be depressed if your gym had to close because the landlord changed the lease. Don’t let relationships or injuries define you – make sure that you define you. Because you’re the only one that gets to count your losses as victories. No one will do it for you.

In 2015 I was just another actor in LA. By 2018 I know many of the top athletes in parkour personally and I have networked with tens of businesses within the parkour economy. I have failed more times than I have succeeded and I would do it all again if it meant I could still connect with those that I have. To know that I did what I could to add to the pages of parkour history means more to me than those that have judged me for my failures and shortcomings. Because the ones that stand beside you when you’ve fallen with arms outstretched are often better than those who are only around when you’re at your best.

Thanks so much for reading. I hope my story can help inspire you to keep pushing regardless of the hardships life has thrown at you. I don’t know if this blog will be a success or failure but you better believe my blood, sweat and tears will go into it either way. I can tell you from experience that you are in complete control of who you want to be in life. It doesn’t matter how much debt you have or where you went to college. It doesn’t matter if the god you pray to or your parents love you. You are always one decision away from becoming a person you’re proud to be. So I challenge you to fail as often as you need to in order to be that person.

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