In 2016, I attended a tournament in Providence, where a parent caused a dramatic scene. A father was watching his son play his round. When the son lost, the father refused to acknowledge the result, going so far as to rip up the match slip and coach his son on how to lie to the judge about what happened. He threw an embarrassing tantrum on the tournament floor, acting both physically and verbally aggressive toward the tournament officials.
For multiple reasons, this was one of the most negative incidents I've ever witnessed at a tournament. On one hand, there was the embarrassment of observing a grown adult acting like an infant and causing a scene. On the other hand, there was the sorrow of knowing that a young, impressionable child was learning to play Yu-Gi-Oh under the faulty premise that winning was more important than having fun. Worse still, was what this episode implied about the family's dynamics at home – something I'd rather not try to imagine.
Helicopter parenting, and its overemphasis on results, has been demonized as the toxic outcome of an overly competitive attitude. That's true from a certain perspective – that is, if you define "competitive" as needing to win right away and all the time. However, I'd argue that from a long-term perspective, the "win at all costs" mentality is actually a non-competitive attitude.
Truly competitive people recognize that failure is necessary to succeed.
For every success I've experienced in Yu-Gi-Oh, I've experienced many more failures.
At the first premier event I ever played I ate a fat burger during the break, and it slowed down my mental faculties. I also neglected to include Side Deck cards for my worst matchup, instead focusing only on the most common matchups. I didn't make Day 2.
At my second premier event, I stayed up the entire night, leading to an 0-2 performance – my worst ever.
At my third premier event I chose the wrong deck, built it sub-optimally, and then over-sided in one of my rounds. I didn't make Day 2 there either.
At my fourth premier event I finally chose the right deck, but I didn't play well in a mirror and misassigned my role in another round. I fell short of Day 2 again, but I came a little closer.
By this point, I thought I'd never top a premier event. I was going to start medical school in under a year, which meant my retirement from dueling was on the horizon. I wanted to have one top to my name before then, but the prospects seemed bleak.
Before my fifth premier event, the first sealed YCS, I simulated drafts over and over and practiced with them. The preparation paid off. I had a stellar record Day 1, and I played virtually without error during the constructed portion of Day 2 to get to the Top Cut.
Before my sixth premier event, the North American WCQ, I practiced Yu-Gi-Oh over the summer as if it were a full-time job. I went undefeated the first day and finished in the Top 32.
Six years later, I've topped four out of the five most recent YCS tournaments I've attended. While this has been my most outstanding performance to date, the journey wasn't all roses – it was full of thorns. I failed and failed and failed, and I treated each failure as a learning opportunity. If I return to the game when events start back up, I don't for a second think that my topping streak will continue. I will almost certainly lose out of many tournaments.
It took me a while to figure out my calling in life. I eventually found my dream job because I embraced failure.
When I attended medical school, it started to sink in how bad of a fit it was for both my desires and my skillset. I wanted to write and to work in spreadsheets, but there was virtually no need for that in medicine. I eventually dropped out, and it was the scariest period in my life, because I had to figure out what I really wanted to do with the uncertainty and worry of getting it wrong again.
One of my good friends introduced me to the world of corporate strategy consulting. It seemed like the perfect career for my strategic brain and a cool way to translate my experiences in professional gaming to solving real-world problems. I encouraged my curiosity as I devoured all the knowledge that I could find about the consulting industry. I applied to over a hundred positions and took many phone calls in my job hunt, often saying the wrong thing and thus disqualifying myself from opportunities. I messed up a lot to get that first job.
I eventually found an entry level role in technology consulting, which wasn't strategy, but still a good starting position. I learned the foundations of project management and consulting during that time, and then exited to found a startup company with fellow duelist Patrick Hoban. As a founder, I studied various elements of business, from operations to finance to legal to sales.
We made mistake after mistake as we grew our company: we partnered with the wrong people, we invested in the wrong infrastructure, we pursued the wrong clients, and much more. However, we always maintained the philosophy to "fail quickly" – to constantly test ideas and iterate them so that over time, every failure we encountered would cost less and less and teach us more and more. Failure was a key facet of our business's growth. Today, the company's seeing strong month over month revenue, even in the midst of the pandemic and the economic recession. This has only been made possible by testing, failing, and improving our business ideas.
Last year I enrolled at a top MBA program, where I studied diligently to make up for my lack of an undergraduate background in business. I researched, called, and interviewed with almost every major company you've heard of: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Walmart, Samsung, JPMorgan Chase, Uber, Dell, and the list goes on. In the vast majority of my interviews, I didn't make it past round 1, much like how I couldn't make it past Day 1 at my first several premier events.
The more I failed, the harder I practiced. I live and breathed corporate strategy, studying interview cases daily, watching videos of other interviewees, browsing forums, reading books, and asking advice from peers. I worked on every last detail of my interview performance, subtracting filler words from my speech, tweaking my tone and energy level, crafting my responses to commonly asked questions, applying business strategy to answer non-business questions in daily life, and more.
Finally, in my second and final year of the program, I got the job I wanted: the coveted title of strategy consulting manager that I began chasing over five years ago when I first dropped out of med school. The painstaking journey, with all its failures, has resulted in a huge reward. Not only will I get to do what I love when I graduate, but my total compensation package in the first year approaches $200,000 USD.
I have Yu-Gi-Oh to thank for so many of the good things in my life. It introduced me to good friends, connected me to this awesome platform where I can write articles to express myself and teach others, helped me to start a company, and showed me how to turn my love for strategy into a lucrative professional career.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I've taken from the game has been the importance of failure. If you treat failure not as a big scary monster to be avoided, but instead, as a tool or instrument that you manage to help you reach the next step, then you'll reach a higher point of mastery both in the game and in life. Here are some of my tips for managing failure:
1. Accept that failure will occur.
The father in my story at the beginning of the article didn't go into the weekend thinking that it was possible for his son to lose. As a result, he didn't know how to react properly when failure occurred. Go into your games, your rounds, your tournaments with the knowledge that although you'll try your very best, it might not be your day, and failure can occur with high likelihood. Accept failure as a statistical reality in life. Be at peace with it.
2. Fail quickly.
If you need to test anything – a new deck, a new job, a new relationship – structure the test in such a way that if it turns out to be the wrong choice, you find out sooner rather than later. Don't create tests that are heavily involved and highly time consuming. Instead, create metrics that can be measured quickly and cheaply in order to determine whether the choice is right, wrong, or in need of modification. Fail quickly.
3. Thoughtfully dwell on your failures.
Some might argue that avoiding negative thoughts is a positive thing to do, but that's a simplistic notion of positivity. A more mature and nuanced concept of positivity incorporates the thoughtful reflection of negative experiences. When you've developed a healthy attitude toward your failures, you can hold them at arm's length: not being so terrified of them that you can't reflect at all, but also not being so hung up on them that you let meditation on failure consume you with negative emotion and paralyze you from moving on.
Thinking about an obvious misplay, a socially embarrassing moment, a traumatic childhood experience, or a heartbroken relationship that ended is not where your mind naturally wants to dwell. However, if you can will yourself to reflect on bad experiences objectively, being honest about what you could change next time to avoid the same outcome as well as what was outside of your control, then you manage your failure instead of succumbing to it.
4. Be humble about success.
It's common for players to grow an ego after their first successful tournament experience, whether they define success as a Day 2, a top, or a win. To be egotistical about success is to forget the reality that the success both was preceded by, and will be followed by, failures. Furthermore, it neglects the reality that "No man is an island." There are no truly self-made success stories in this world. Everyone who amounts to anything only does so with the help of their network. We all need support, and we therefore cannot boast in our achievements as if they are solely our own.
Be skeptical if you ever hear someone brag that they've never been defeated at something. Any activity in life that's meaningfully challenging and worthwhile is something that requires multiple failures to become good at. The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.