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How Dr. Michele Meek Is Shaking Up How We Think About Failure

Well, I’m not done shaking things up in terms of fighting for equality in the film industry and rethinking our stories of consent, first of all. But my next goal is to bring down our entire thinking of success with a book about failure that I’m working on. As a part of our series about […]

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Well, I’m not done shaking things up in terms of fighting for equality in the film industry and rethinking our stories of consent, first of all. But my next goal is to bring down our entire thinking of success with a book about failure that I’m working on.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Meek.

Michele Meek, PhD is the founder of NewEnglandFilm.com, Independent Media Publications, and a Founding Member of the Mastermind Failure Club. Her entrepreneurial successes have been lauded in Inc. Magazine, National Public Radio, and The Boston Globe, and she presented a 2018 TEDx talk. She has written articles in Salon.com, Ms. Magazine online, The Independent, and others, and she has published several books including The Independent’s Guide to Film Distribution, Independent Female Filmmakers (2019), and most recently The Mastermind Failure Club: A Self-Empowerment Guide for Artists, Filmmakers, Writers, and Other Creative Entrepreneurs (2020). She also works as an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

Throughout her career, Michele has been a staunch advocate for writers, filmmakers and other creatives. In her most recent book, The Mastermind Failure Club, she guides artists and entrepreneurs to form their own group of expert colleagues through a Mastermind Failure Club. Through this “personal advisory board,” creatives can share artistic and business support, accountability, and brainstorming for their projects (like a mastermind group) and pursue ambitious goals despite a likelihood of failure (like a Failure Club). These two ideas comprise the yin and yang of the group — emphasizing the importance of moving forward in work and art, while simultaneously addressing the necessity of risk and likelihood of failures.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I often joke that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up — although I’m actually dead serious. When people ask me what I do, I launch into a list — writer, filmmaker, professor, entrepreneur — that sets their heads spinning. So, I’d have to ask back, which career path?

But seriously, in terms of being an entrepreneur — maybe it’s just something that happens when you like to be in charge! I started my first business, NewEnglandFilm.com, in 1997 because as an up-and-coming filmmaker and writer, I wanted to know what was going on in the industry and connect with others. So, I saw a need, and I decided to address it. I think that has been how every business I’ve created has emerged. Some, of course, worked out better than others. Ultimately, I am excited by both coming up with new ideas and implementing them. It’s a constant learning process.

I decided to go back for my PhD after being out of school for many years. Teaching is something I have always done — whether it was an adult education class or in college. Although I wasn’t sure if my degree would lead to a full-time position in teaching, my curiosity and love of learning propelled me forward anyway. And I’m glad it did.

Then, writing is just what I do — and what I’ve always done in one form or another. I started writing my first book when I was 8-years-old, and I’ve considered myself a writer ever since. Filmmaking, honestly, came about because the first time I wrote a script and someone else directed it, I realized, nope, that’s not what I meant. So then, I figured, I had to become a director too.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

There’s no doubt about it that I am a “disruptor” — always have been, probably always will be. So the interventions in whatever field I enter tend to be disruptive — of course, I hope, in a good way. For example, I have long sought to raise the visibility of grassroots and independent filmmakers, especially for women and people of color. In my academic research, I also focus on challenging us all to think carefully about the patterns in the stories we tell. In my 2018 TEDx talk “Why We’re Confused About Consent — Rewriting Our Stories of Seduction,” I emphasize how we insist that yes means yes and no means no, all while enjoying film and television that tells us no means maybe or try harder. For all of these issues, I don’t see myself as “outside” or “above” the problem — rather, I hope to call attention to how we all can do better, including myself.

Now with the Mastermind Failure Club, I want to disrupt how we think about success in our culture — especially when it comes to artists and solopreneurs. As much as we all want to believe that “failure is a stepping stone to success,” it isn’t that simple. When you take risks, innovate or create, you will experience failure or success — or in my experience some combination of the two. And the bigger the risk, the more you will likely gain or lose. Ford might have come up with the V-8 engine, but they also lost millions on the Edsel. The fact is pursuing something passionately and relentlessly, despite all logic and in the face of all naysayers, can go either way. In other words, the secret to success is also the secret to failure.

I am not suggesting that we don’t learn from our failures — hopefully we do. But no one has the magic formula to make a groundbreaking movie or revolutionary piece of art or world-changing invention. That work is done by people who put themselves out there despite all the odds against them.

That’s why I think that as creative entrepreneurs, we have to accept that failure is not only an option; it’s the most likely option, and to wholeheartedly pursue our endeavors anyway. Ironically, I have found that aiming to fail is not defeatist; it actually empowers and emboldens us to pursue higher aspirations, and then softens the blow if and when we don’t quite reach the heights we imagined.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve definitely had people who believed in me and my work at different points in my life and career — and that can certainly be validating. But I have to admit, I have been notoriously bad about seeking out and sustaining “mentors” per se. I actually talk about this in my book. Years ago, a journalist asked me to name my mentors, and I couldn’t think of anyone at all. Although I think we often idealize the entrepreneurial path, it is an extremely challenging career — and it can be incredibly isolating at times.

When I came together with a group of artists and entrepreneurs to launch the first Mastermind Failure Club, it completely shifted my mindset. Suddenly, my venture was not something I pursued on my own — it became part of a collective endeavor. I suddenly had a group of colleagues who cheered me on, called me out, and challenged me to push ahead when I felt ready to give up.

Maybe for me, there is something inherently uncomfortable about the mentor/mentee relationship — in general, I prefer to be on equal footing with people. And this goes both ways. It’s one of the reasons that I have my students call me by my first name.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I remember when I was in my twenties, someone older and wiser said to me, “Well, you can’t do everything.” I was horrified. I literally thought this was the meanest and most depressing thing anyone had ever said to me. Much later, someone reframed this for me as “You can’t chase two rabbits at the same time.” That was a bit more palatable — and it has helped me think through, what will I focus on this year, this summer? Because I’ve often made a terrible habit of chasing multiple rabbits at the same time — and not just two!

It can be so hard to decide what to bring to your front burner, when you have a lot of interests. Many years ago, my husband and I started making plans for 10 goals in the next five years. I found that incredibly helpful. When I write something down, like “write a book” or “live abroad” or “pare down my projects,” I suddenly recognize this thing as a major life priority, which becomes the first step for gathering the motivation and momentum to follow through on such ideas.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Well, I’m not done shaking things up in terms of fighting for equality in the film industry and rethinking our stories of consent, first of all. But my next goal is to bring down our entire thinking of success with a book about failure that I’m working on.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I have been influenced by so many books over the years — maybe they’ve been my mentors, now that I think of it! I have been deeply influenced by Osho’s Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously, the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness, and Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. I have always been a person that wants to get to the deep stuff — what’s the purpose, not just of this task, but of our lives, of suffering, of humankind itself?

On a more day-to-day pragmatic level, I have been greatly influenced by Barbara Stanny’s Overcoming Underearning. She breaks down how we sometimes hold ourselves back, and I had a reckoning with myself after reading her book that truly transformed my subsequent work and my relationship with money.

Last but definitely not least, Casey Gerald’s TED talk “The Gospel of Doubt” has resonated with me so much. He breaks down the various belief systems in his life culminating in his sudden realization that his achievements as a person of color were held up as a model success story — but it was actually a ruse. As he puts it, his “story stood in for all those who were expected to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they didn’t have any boots.” I think it’s deeply important both to push ourselves to be and do our best — but at the same time, we need to actively work against structural racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and everything else that ultimately holds us back from enabling everyone to be their best selves and achieve their goals.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want everyone to start a Mastermind Failure Club! I truly believe that typical conversations often stay too much on the surface of things, when what we really need is to get down to who we are, what we want, and how we can find our way toward doing more of what we love with the people we love — now. Although the idea is specifically crafted for entrepreneurs and artists, I actually think anyone could benefit from this consistent and mutual deep dive into our inner selves and outer existences.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Audre Lorde has said, “When we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” I have realized that when you publicly stand up for what you believe in, you will always encounter people who don’t like what you’re saying. But to me, silence is worse. I think it’s on all of us to leave the world better than we found it — and we must do that in whatever small and big ways that we are able.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best way to follow me is to subscribe to my email list on my website at michelemeek.com. But I’m also active on InstagramFacebookTwitterLinkedIn. And I just started posting more regularly on a YouTube Channel.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you

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