Scaling Mountains: Overcoming Anxiety and the Fear of Failure

3D and UX Design for Games, VR and Animation

Scaling Mountains: Overcoming Anxiety and the Fear of Failure

January 23, 2012 Uncategorized 9


[This post was inspired by Boon Cotter, good friend and crazy talented dev, who’s entered into a creative contract with himself to go indie and earn a living making great games. His 30 games in 30 days challenge is his way of dealing with the mountain. Follow his journey and play the latest at]

Starting a business is scary.

Believe me, I know.

Everything that needs doing before you can do the kind of work you want to do can be overwhelming. It’s easier to wait, to stay at the base of the mountain and keep up the holding pattern of daily life.

But after a lifetime of one-size-fits-all formulas (go to school, get a job, trade hours for cash, spend cash, repeat) you start to feel that easier does not equate to better and satisfaction deteriorates with repetition.

Which brings you back to staring up that damn mountain – dreaming about what’s on the other side.


Photo Credit: David Warlick (Creative Commons)


Map Out the Checkpoints

Look at a cliff face as one sheer wall of rock from start to bottom and you won’t be able to see your way up.

Aim for the breaks in the wall, the points where time and circumstances give you the opportunity to stop and catch your breath, and that cliff face becomes scalable.

Each break becomes a checkpoint you need to pass through before you can climb to the next. You can see some of what you’re going to need to prepare for later in the climb but you won’t have all the information for the next stage until you get through this one.

For now all you need to do is focus on getting to that first checkpoint.

Apply it: Identify checkpoints on the way to your goal. If you’re new to indie start by researching the people who have made this journey before. Plan your checkpoints by learning from their experiences.


The Real Life Treasure Map



Carve Out Some Steps

Each stage of ascent can be broken down into small easily managed steps.

Work your way backwards from each checkpoint. Each step has prerequisites, objectives you need to complete first.

Lets take the first of the 9 Steps to Self Publishing as an example:

Find Your Focus

5. Communicate the reason you’re going indie: what you need to do, why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for.
4. Identify a need in your community that you can develop a solution for
3. Find a community of like minded people who share your passions
2. Choose an indie profession specializing in the knowledge and skills you most enjoy developing
1. Create a personal inventory of all the skills, knowledge and passions that make you unique

Apply it: Break down the steps you need to go through to get to your next checkpoint. Think about prerequisites – what you need to do BEFORE each step.


Measure Your Progress

While you’re focused on each small step it’s easy to forget to look up and check your progress.

If you ended up having to take a few steps back to work your way around an obstacle you might have lost track of how far you’ve come – or wonder if you’re getting anywhere at all!

You need to be able to reflect back on your progress to date and monitor the effectiveness of your choices in getting you to the next checkpoint.

Whether you choose robust kanban tools or post it notes on a corkboard you need something so easy to operate that you won’t hesitate to use it every day. You’ll also need to be able to quickly change direction and adjust your path as you get new information from completed steps.

Apply it: Take all the steps you’ll need to trek through on the way to the next checkpoint and slot them into a to-do list tracker like Google Tasks, Trello, Asana or Kanban Tool.


Finding Focus with Trello


Do a little bit more every day

Every day aim to move one task across the board from To-Do to Doing to Done. If you can’t take a card all the way across the board in one day then break that task down into its own micro steps.

Show up and do something every day. It could be something small. It could be something hugely significant.

Just make sure it’s something that moves you closer to that next Checkpoint.

In the near future you’re going to look back from on high and realise you’ve climbed further than you ever thought you could on your own – and from up here all the obstacles that stopped you before look small and insignificant. In fact the next mountain doesn’t look steep at all really.

Scale One Mountain and the Next is Even Easier

9 Responses

  1. Saykharng says:

    Nice article. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Chris Osman says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m not a game dev, more of a writer/artist, but the principals apply across the board. 

    • They’ve applied to me as well and I’m more of a writer/coach/evangelist! 

      All my articles come from a few years of business research, application of the concepts to my own startup, working with indies to help them apply the concepts to theirs – then blogging about what worked and what didn’t 8P

  3. Brian says:

    The scariest part of failure is accepting that it is going to happen.  the only way to grow as an individual is to allow yourself to hit a wall, step back and change your course.   This is an easy way to accept failure as part of life.

    often we correlate failure with being ashamed or looked down upon.    Ask people at the top how many times they have failed. i’m sure they can’t count them all on two hands!


    • Randy Pausch had one of the most impactful views on the importance of failure and the role it plays in defining our lives: 

      The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!”
      His Last Lecture is still one of the most moving and inspirational videos I’ve ever watched. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend putting aside some time, it’s worth every minute:  

  4. Boon Cotter says:

    Thanks for sharing, Epona! And thanks for the cool shout-out *EGO EXPANDING* 😀

    I’d love to share some of the tools and tricks that I’ve used (in addition to everything on this site) to help keep me in momentum. I’ll make a post on my blog as soon as I can eke some spare time and a little space to set up my laptop!

    I hope you know the positive stuff you’re doing for people like me. Never underestimate the power of encouragement! <3

    • Can’t wait to read that post! Going to help helps of other indie devs (would love to see more Unity builds embedded into a blog post – what a great way to share the latest release!). 

      It goes both ways 8). The work I see you doing inspires more articles which inspires more indies which inspires you which inspires more articles…it goes on and on! 

  5. Alan White says:

    For quite a long time in my life I have studied motivation and all that type of stuff. Big listener to Anthony Robins and spent quite a good part of my life clicking that Stumble Button looking for the next big life changing thing.

    Now days, I barely worry about motivation or even just think of it. But I stay incredible motivated with my studies. Why I ask myself. I think its because I’m so far into what I’m doing and been doing it for quite some time now, I don’t really need that “motivation” stuff. I didnt need it when I started either.

    I’m not sure why I’m so successful now compared to a couple years ago. But I know for sure none of that motivation stuff I learned about had to do with it. And I honestly think sometimes that it can be a crutch. You kind of get stuck in a rut trying to get motivated. If you know what I mean =)

Comments are closed.