Feeling like a failure

Published on Friday, May 28, 2021 By Brad Wardell In Life, the Universe and Everything

So I turn 50 this year. 

It's an arbitrary milestone but such milestones gives us an opportunity to take stock in our lives.

I wrote on my Facebook page that I get frustrated being a failure.  My friends and family were quite worried and I should have given more context to my feelings which is what I am going to do here.

We all have certain personality traits that can get in the way of accomplishing what we want.  Maybe you just want to lose some weight and you just can't stick to a diet. It makes you feel bad. You might feel like a failure. Maybe you have a great family. Lots of friends. But having goals that you fail to meet because of your own character shortcomings is extremely frustrating.  That's where my head lives a lot of the time.

People who know much about me know I have a lot of "haters".  That sort of thing doesn't bother me because they don't really hate me. They hate a caricature of me.  I always joke to my wife "There are so many legitimate reasons to hate me but these people focus on things made up by other people."

What makes me feel like a failure -- what has always made me feel like a failure (going back many years) is that I have 3 gaping personality flaws that prevent me from reaching my potential:

  1. Cognitive Dissonance
  2. Emotional investment in abstractions
  3. Fear of change

I call it the Barrier of denial.

When you look at someone like Elon Musk, whether you like him or not, it can't be denied he has accomplished great things.  Amazing things. And from reading up on him, he clearly does not have the 3 flaws I listed above.  Sure, he has other flaws but I don't think people should define success or failure based on how they compare to other people.  People should try to be the best person they can be. And it is my failure to do that is what frustrates me.

Let me outline a few examples of what I mean of failure.

Galactic Civilizations for OS/2

I wrote this game while in college. And IBM recommended this guy and his "company" called "Advanced Idea Machines" to publish it at the stores. Now, under the covers, IBM did all the real work to get it at the store. But AIM was actually just this guy, a scammer. And I should have known he was a scammer.

He sent me a bunch of "marketing" shirts for the game with the tagline: "Have you met the nieghbors".  Yes, misspelled.  That was the moment I was pretty sure that I was being scammed.  But I did nothing.  

* Cognitive dissonance (IBM recommended him therefore I must be wrong)

* Fear of change (I've already gone this far, I'm sure it'll be OK)

Needless to say I didn't get paid.  The game made millions and I saw nothing.  Imagine how things might have gone if 1994 era Stardock had millions of dollars to build up rather than $15,000 (that's how much I got selling copies of the "Shipyards" expansion to people via floppy disks over Usenet).  

And in my bones, I knew this guy was a scammer.

OS/2 in general

Stardock stuck with the OS/2 market for a long time after it was doomed. For most Stardock customers, we began in 2000 or 2001 with Object Desktop, WindowBlinds, maybe The Corporate Machine game (or later with Sins of a Solar Empire and Fences).  But in the 1990s, Stardock was arguably the #1 ISV for OS/2 -- for both utilities and games.  

If you walked into a store carrying OS/2 software in 1996 it was mostly our software whether you wanted games or utilities.  And yet, I knew OS/2 was doomed in 1996.  How? Because I had a bunch of people at IBM calling me telling me that IBM had disbanded the OS/2 team and that I should migrate to Windows immediately.  These were colleagues from IBM in Boca Raton and Raleigh who were taking some risk telling me this.   And what did I do? Nothing.

* Emotional investment in abstraction (it's just a little bit dead! It's still good! It's still good!)

I was so "into" OS/2.  People get behind causes.  Look at the people who get emotionally invested in a platform (Steam, PlayStation, XBOX, Linux, Mac, etc.).  I get it.  I could not admit that the thing I was so into was going to die.

Imagine how things might have gone if I had ported Galactic Civilizations to Windows in 1996 instead of waiting until 2003 when it required a rewrite (because of technical changes).  It would have been easy to release GalCiv for Windows NT 4.0 and Object Desktop for Windows in 1996.  But I couldn't betray "the cause".

Instead, I waited until I was laying off friends and colleagues at Stardock to limp over to the Windows market in 1999. 

And even at that point, we had plenty of OS/2 customers screaming at me that I was greedy or selling out or "betraying" them or whatever.   Never become emotionally invested in a platform.

And on it goes

But these are the kinds of mistakes I have continued to make: Knowing a problem and not acting on it due to a flaw whether that be Elemental, MyColors, or canning the Star Control: Origins project in 2017 when its development had gone off the rails (imagine how different recent events would have gone if I had simply killed that project before the drama stuff came up a year later).

For me, feeling like a failure is an expression of frustration that I still can't overcome my personal failings.  I've gotten better about these failings but I still find myself not making "the hard decision" because of the flaws I mentioned above.