On Success, Unpredictability, Patience

Success is unpredictable. Enough said.

Wait, you need more? Heh. I did as well years ago, before I crossed into the Fog of Achievement.

I saw some stuff lately that’s caused me to write about this. First, the image to the left, reading “i do not fail, i succeed in finding out what does not work.” Now, sure, that’s funny and gets a snort. But here’s the thing: if you actually do that last part, you’re on the path to success.

Back in January, I wrote this when I wrote about Luck and Wisdom:

If I am at all wise, it is because I neither ignore nor obsess over the mountain of failure I have created in my years.

Since then, I’ve had some more failures that I’ve learned from — professional, creative, personal. Nothing that’s disheartening, because the point of experimenting it to see what works, what doesn’t, and to move on. Because you can’t really predict success in the creative landscape, experimenting is what you gotta do. Each failure is just more concrete in your creative foundation. (Also, a good place to hide the corpses of past projects.)

Now, I’ve become a fan of Nice Peter and his Epic Rap Battles of History. He does some other weekly shows that are neat (though he lives up to his moniker of “Nice Peter”, so if you’re expecting disses like the raps, you’ll be disappointed. I am not). One from earlier this October, he crossed the threshold of having one million YouTube subscribers. He talked about that a bit on this video:

He starts talking about how it took him twelve years to get to this point, and he didn’t expect to get to this point by being an Internet rapper. Start at 1:02, for around 30 seconds. Or watch the whole 6:41 of it, because he’s upbeat, chill, nice. And if you’re looking at the Internet, chances are you need a dose of that. :)

If there’s one thing I learned from this experience [of getting one million subscribers on YouTube and being an Internet hit], it’s don’t ever give up on what you’re doing! But, remember it’s not going to end up exactly how you thought it was.

– Nice Peter

I totally understand that. When I started as a RPG design podcaster, I didn’t expect I would be a multiple award-winning game editor/developer. I didn’t know that was in me.

And when I think of unexpected successes, I think about one of the people that I…fuck, I hate saying “look up to” because honestly uncomfortable when people say that to me. It implies some sort of distance between a creator and the person saying it that isn’t there, some sort of status bullshit. But it’s a useful phrase, so sure…look up to, Wil Wheaton. Did he expect to become the cornerstone of geek culture that he is today? Not really. But that’s the thing about success — if you keep at something, examine your successes and failures, adapt, and be patient, it’ll happen. Just not how you expect. Wil adapted and became the dude he is today.

Now, when I say “be patient” I don’t at all mean “be still,” which is how I used to hear it when people said that to me. Success is like baking a cake. The cake is constantly becoming the thing you want it to be, not just sitting around unchanging. But if you rush it or open the oven too early, you’re going to fuck it up. Patience is constantly acting knowing the big payoff is years away, and not letting that deter you.

But patience isn’t never throwing in the towel, saying “fuck it” and going off to drink or play video games. That happens to all of us. We all need breaks. We’re not emotionless, tireless robots.

Patience is knowing you’re going to pick the damned towel back up in a moment and keep pushing. Patience is when that towel never leaves you for long.

Success is the long game. It’s unpredictable, it takes time, and it’s fucking exciting. Go grab some.

– Ryan


11 Responses to On Success, Unpredictability, Patience

  1. This strikes me as a fine way to present “Be” advice, Ryan. Well done.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Heh. I’ll keep that in mind. I suppose there are subjects where “Do” advice is really hard to convey.


      – Ryan

  2. EZ says:

    If I say “You’re my hero” does that have the same distancing effect?

    Does it help or hurt if I add “Ferris Beuller”?

    Answer carefully because that could become #icfb.

  3. jessecoombs says:


    There’s some interesting stuff about success coming in forms that you didn’t expect that the 37 Signals guys wrote about.

    It’s ok if goals morph, in fact it’s a guarantee.

  4. Steven Grady says:

    I really like the distinction between “be patient” and “be still”. I’m going to keep that in mind, and perhaps even share it with others.

  5. _3Jane says:

    Your success/cake comparison reminded me of this short film:


    (“Outside Aperture” – Chell learning a new skill).

  6. jessecoombs says:

    Man, I can’t find one, but I’m pretty sure it’s in their book, which I can give you.

  7. Peter Carlson says:

    Thanks Ryan, I was just confronted by a big wad of past failures, and this was exactly what I needed to read to put things back into perspective.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      You’re welcome!

      And I hear you. I have those moments more often than I care to admit.

      – Ryan