The Importance of Failing Big

A couple of days ago, I gazed in bewilderment as James Franco impersonated an unusual dreamer in “The Disaster Artist.” Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, a man we know very little about besides his uncanny aspiration to become a famous Hollywood actor. The reality is that he is terrible at it, but he considers himself a “dedicated actor” and will do whatever it takes for LA to know his name.

Tommy teams up with the young and impressionable Greg Sestero, played by Franco’s youngest brother Dave, and the two move from San Fran to the City of Angels to take up acting. The only problem is, as one might predict, that Hollywood is not keen on shooing in either personality. Stiff competition and connections rule the city, and neither Tommy nor Greg is in a position to hit it big on the silver screen.

So Tommy decides that if he can’t land a role in someone else’s movie, he may as well write, produce and direct his own. And that’s exactly how “The Room” comes to be, a real film released in 2003 that allegedly cost $6 million to create and yielded $1,800 in sales its opening weekend. 

Regarded by many critics as “one of the worst movies ever made,” it did succeed in fulfilling Tommy’s dream, and that is to become known in Hollywood. Today, “The Room” enjoys cult status for being a tremendous flop and has gone on to inspire a video game, a book, and most prominently, a major motion picture.

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in "The Disaster Artist"

I couldn’t help but pause for a few moments over New York Magazine’s comment about “The Disaster Artist” and, implicitly, the story of Tommy Wiseau: “A tribute to those who dream so big and fail so spectacularly that they actually triumph.” History has a way of remembering and romancing the victors, those whose endeavors bore fruit and were thus committed to the annals for all to pore over. Society, too, is quick to snatch up success stories and propagate them in all directions. Those who exerted tantamount or perhaps paramount effort but were not so fortunate in their outcomes we have no trouble discarding from memory.

The importance of “The Room,” Tommy, and “The Disaster Artist” is persistence. Tommy was constantly besieged with negative remarks about how unfit he was as an actor, but he would have none of it. The idea of acting coursed through his veins, and he fought tooth and nail to consummate his reverie, no matter how whimsical or impossible. Sure, it helped that he had huge cash savings to invest in himself, but at least he was unabashedly focused and unwilling to take no for an answer.

I think I speak for a lot of us when I say how fearful we are to invest in ourselves. In fact, that’s what makes entrepreneurship such a remarkable plight. We can all be entrepreneurs if we zealously pursue our passions, but the majority of us get caught up in the comfort zone of the 9-to-5 and remain there our whole lives. At retirement, we might channel our deferred passions into hobbies, which is all fine and dandy except for the fact that we squandered decades wherein we could have been masters of our own time and income.

Back in business school, I recall being given the rather dismal odds of startup success: less than 10% of entrepreneurs make it. 

Look around you here in Lebanon, particularly the dining scene. How many restaurants come and go in the blink of an eye? Anyone remember Paname? Or Café DIEM? How about Burger ‘n Booze? Morenito? Bar au Thym? Or Sweet Tea? Scroll through this blog’s extensive restaurant directory, and you’ll understand just how often restaurateurs open shop in this city, only to have their hopes dashed and their dreams shrivel up like a raisin in the sun.

Tommy Wiseau with James Franco: Two very different success stories

Failure is a real and living thing. In fact, it is far more common than success. Whether or not you choose to celebrate it is your own prerogative. But don’t let this lifetime pass you by as you come down critically on yourself, so much so that you thwart your dreams even before giving them a chance to flourish.

Embrace failure, for it is your only reliable gauge of success.


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