If You Want to be Successful You're Going to Have to Fail... A lot.
Raise your hand if you want to be successful?
Now, raise your hand if you also want to be a failure?
Not as many hands the second time around I bet. So, what do success and failure have to do with one and other? One can’t exist without the other.
No one starts something and is instantly successful at it if it’s a new idea. Now if you take someone else’s idea, project, franchise, etc. and with the right instruction you can follow the rules and probably be successful at it right off the bat. But, I’m not talking about being successful with something you didn’t create. Anyone can paint by numbers. I’m talking about making something out of nothing and then failing at it until you succeed.
I have always said that on my gravestone (stick with me here… I know that’s a weird way to start) that I would want it to say, “She made something out of nothing.” I never knew exactly where this came from but from as early as six years old I was doing just that. It started off with my first “novel” that I wrote at around seven or eight called West. It was aptly named that because I believe it had to do with the pioneers. There may have been a mystery and probably a love story in it. I wrote it on the double lined paper they used to give little kids to practice their cursive on, which I’ve heard isn’t taught anymore. I will be sure to teach my kids to write in cursive since it is by far the fastest way to write by hand. And, if they’re anything like me when they have an idea they need to jot down they’re going to want to know how to do it quickly.
As I grew up I went on to write script after play after musical and many, many stories that led to real novels later. I’m currently shopping my novel around now for the right agent. More on that later.
I had always wanted to just create and produce art and later in my twenties that morphed into businesses. I had always wondered where I got this idea of making something out of nothing. How did I feel so compelled to do this? No one was forcing me. It was innately who I was. Recently my dad gave me a clue into why this may be. We were talking about kids and parenting and he said, “I never bought you multiple toys at once. I wanted you do use your imagination and create with what you had.”
And, that’s the key here. If you want to create something out of nothing you have to work with what you have and to make that something you're gonna fail at it at least a few times.
So, let’s head back to the beginning where I said success can’t exist without failure. Some of you may be very, very familiar with this fun little thing called failure. Yeah? Me too. I’ve failed at things I didn’t realize that were actually going well. Like my bakery, Brubakery. I was breaking even for the first two to three years and to me that looked like a failure. If I did turn a profit it wasn’t enough for me to feel successful. But, I had business's and clients who loved my product and the Food Network behind me. And yet, to me it was a failure. After careful consideration I decided to close my bakery. If you didn’t know breaking even for even the first five years of a new business is considered successful. Interesting how the perspective changes, right? Do I regret closing it? Nope. I love baking but not for money. It’s my hobby and I don’t have too many of those I’m not marketing on so I like to keep it close to my heart.
Now, let’s get to my novel I mentioned earlier. I wrote a novel four years ago and shopped it around. After a year of writing it and a year of pitching it I got a couple of agents who were interested, but ultimately passed. I decided to put it away. Last year something sparked inside of me. No, it wasn’t Marie Kondo kind of spark. My best friend and I got to talking and she said she wanted to read it. I hadn’t looked at it in years so of course I was a little hesitant to send it right over. I opened the document, started reading and was pleasantly surprised that it was much better than I remembered. As any writer will tell you, you need to get distance from a piece of work to see where it wants to go or if it’s done— which being done is always up for negotiation as any writer will also tell you.
Suddenly I could see the notes from the agent years ago were helpful and how I could rework the story to flow better. I ended up rewriting the story as I read it. Cutting about ninety percent of it, cutting characters and completely rewriting it with the kind of perspective I needed that I didn’t have four years ago. As I wrote my book I’d send off newly written pieces to my friend who loved it. Then later another friend joined in and started reading it. Finally, out of nowhere a big time screenwriting manager found out about this book (because the Universe is mysterious and hilarious at the same time) and asked to see it. I was almost finished writing it when he wanted to take a meeting and told me that it was going to be huge. We quickly went into creating the pitch deck for it and then two sequels and later created a TV and movie pitch deck. My head was spinning and I truly thought I’d won the literary lottery. But, right when all of our pitch decks had been completed he suddenly wanted to change the entire story-- the story he loved so much. I couldn’t do it. It would be like taking Eat Pray Love and making it into the Housewives of New Jersey if I did what he wanted and the spark of what made that story great and had all of my girlfriends ferociously reading it would be lost. So, we parted ways for this book.
So, was my novel a success or a failure or both? I see it as all of the above. I failed with this manager to move forward in the super Hollywood way that he wanted but I succeeded in keeping the integrity of the book. And of course, having written a novel in about three months or a novel at all is a success. Let’s give some kudos to that part alone!
So, how do we get past our feeling of failure when we’re trying to succeed? How do we not let the naysayers get in when we’re trying out hardest and they’re simply yelling their insecurities from the sidelines? Who knows maybe that naysayer is you?
You can only get to a place where you don’t care what others think of you when you’ve felt the rejection of them countless times. Had your projects, jobs, relationships, dreams fail over and over again. Only then when you’ve come through to the other side so many times do you know the way by heart and can stop caring what others think of you. Because by this point you’re too tired to care and too determined to succeed to listen to that fear anyway.
When we start to open up and show the authentic version of us is when we can allow ourselves to fail. Because success is only found by many, many failures. If I could list how many times things in my professional and personal life didn’t work out you’d be handing me the box of tissues. But, upon meeting me you’d never know that. You’d only have heard of what I’ve done right. I once had a guy say to me, “You’re successful at everything you’ve done. You’ve never failed at anything.” I will never forget that. Because what he didn’t know was the enormous struggle each and every business and project had been. Even if the end result looked shinny getting there was absolutely not.
Failing is so much apart of succeeding that they should teach that in first grade. Let kids know it’s okay to fail. To simply try again. Come back with a different approach, a different perspective and see if you can make it work. And, to not be afraid to throw the towel in when you’ve exhausted everything. Quitting may feel awful, but it’s apart of success. Not everything you tackle is right for you and you have to have a real coming to Jesus meeting to know when it's time to quit. I also don’t know if quitting is the right word. Maybe retiring is better. You can always come back to it later.
If you’re working on something right now that you want to succeed at I’m giving you the permission to fail at it as many times as you need to until you get it right or let it go when you feel it’s time to retire it. Trying at all is a success in my book. Thomas Edison is famously quoted saying,
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
Don’t be afraid of failure. As long as you’re learning after every try and tweaking your approach until it works that’s all you can do. Success comes when it’s time. It’s truly something you can’t push but only try to get closer to. Keep up the good work kids, keep trying, be kind to yourself, learn from each trial, and hopefully someday soon that failure will be your last.