Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.
-Oscar Wilde 1854-1900
When I was 20 I had been living with a woman for two years. We had a fiery, passionate relationship and were meant for each other. The problem was, we were only twenty, and light years away from growing into the people we would become.
I was in a band back then, and being twenty, drank and did drugs like the world would be gone tomorrow. I was at the peak of youthful energy, was in a really good band with a loyal following, and was a prominent member of the punk scene in a large city. I was living like a rock star, minus the amenities mind you- we’re talking punk rock after all, but in every other respect the experience was every boyhood fantasy I’d ever had, and I was loving every minute of my life.
Being in a serious relationship in the midst of all this debauchery meant that I missed out on a lot of after-show escapades. I was in love with the woman I was with, but I was twenty and because of my position in the music scene every time the band played, I went to a show, or even just to a bar, I had opportunities. That kind of temptation is a strong pull, and it’s astonishing that I remained above it for as long as I did.
In the end, I succumbed to temptation. It was a conscious decision and I knew the consequences should I be discovered. I never was, and after a brief fling with another woman I broke it off. Ultimately the excitement of being with someone else yielded to feelings of self-loathing for being such a snake and not having the integrity to resist temptation. Out of guilt, or perhaps just scared, I realized how grateful I was for the woman I was with, and completely rededicated myself to her.
Maybe nine months later I made a second, conscious, bad decision. The one lesson my father taught me that really sunk in was that a good man does the right thing even when no one else is watching. I had violated the prime directive. I felt really guilty about what I had done, and I was struggling with my feeling that the only way to ever put those bad feelings to rest was to come clean about what I’d done. I was too young to realize that while honesty is always the best policy, it’s never worth being honest for honesty’s sake when the truth will hurt someone.
I told her.
She was devastated. It was horrible. I knew right away I had made a terrible mistake. She forgave me, but ultimately it destroyed our relationship. Women almost always have the last laugh. Now the tables were turned and I was the one who was devastated and entered a period of self-indulgent depression that it would take me two years to emerge from.
Not all decisions that affect us are conscious. The bottom line is that every step we take, every fork in the road that forces us to choose has a lasting impact on what comes after. This is true of the big, life changing decisions we make and it’s true of something as simple as deciding where we’re eating lunch today.
This is true of the decisions you make for your website as much as any other part of your life. Decisions affect direction, and being human we make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make a decision, because indecision guarantees failure. A web site is a vast collection of decisions. Code, design, content, communication, monetization; they all impact your web site’s ability to achieve the goals you have for it. Like chemistry or cooking, you are not going to achieve the desired result unless you take painstaking care. Unlike chemistry or cooking, there isn’t a specific set of instructions for you to follow.
You have an idea of what needs to be done and there is no shortage of people like me on the internet who are more than willing to offer vague advice, but in the end, you’re on your own. Ultimately there is no quick fix or easy answer, because the only person who knows exactly what your site needs to succeed is you. There is no substitute for exploration and error, and you will certainly benefit more from the missteps you take than from successes gained through sheer dumb luck. Mistakes are a positive; they show us the way forward. Don’t let a mistake get under your skin. Don’t let your self esteem be ruled by your failures. Don’t forsake a good idea because you stumbled along the way.
Our failures are just as important as our successes, perhaps more so provided we learn from them and take the lessons they offer. Fail to do so, and they will haunt you like vengeful spirits.