Failure feels like walking across hot coals while gargling rocks. Failure feels like you want to kick every cliche about how valuable failure is in the shins. Failure feels like when your first grade teacher wrote “talk, talk, talk” in the behavior section of your report card. Failure feels like the curtain catching on fire during a production you directed as a high school drama teacher. Failure feels like a script that runs through your mind that says you could have worked harder, planned better, done more, been smarter. Failure feeds the “I am total a fraud” beast. I have experienced a lot of failure. I have written about all kinds of failure. The concept of failure is woven through the fabric of my writing, threaded with strands of redemption, resilience, hope, and strength. I believe with all my heart that creativity, innovation and invention are driven by failure, but failure still hurts.
Failure and Success
Seth Godin talked to me about failure like this:
Well you know, the first 800 book proposals I sent out got rejected. 800 in a row. What I discovered was I was not very good at telling my story. I was not very good at understanding my customer. I was not very good at realizing that I needed to become a partner in an industry that did not like people who were acting the way I was acting. Once I learned those things, which took a couple years, I stopped getting rejection letters. If I had not exposed myself to failure I would still be an idiot.
Even best selling authors start off as idiots.
We can start off as idiots. That is a comforting thought. It is comforting because it lets us know we don’t have to have all the answers immediately. It lets us off the hook from having to be a genius. Ever. It gives us hope that even if we start off as an idiots, we don’t have to remain remain. We can learn. We can publish. We can even become a best selling authors. Most importantly, failure provides perspective, insight, and wisdom that change the chemistry of our lives. Through failure, we learn. If we learn from failure, our potential is limitless.
800 is not such a big number.
800 tries requires enormous resilience, sticktoitiveness, confidence, humility, and fearlessness. 800 tries means we don’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. We don’t even have to be perfect after 500 tries. We probably never really have to be perfect at all. The older I get, the more I understand the value in simply showing up, again, and again, and again, and again. I can expend the effort and energy. There is a weight lifted when I know beforehand, early on, that it will take a while. In this scenario of success, persistence and resilience are as important as genius and skill, and luck can be generated from the fire in the belly.
Tell your story.
A big part of telling our story is knowing our story. A big part of knowing our story is trying 800 times. Our story is written through trial and error. Our story is written through our choices. Our story is written when we pay attention. When we know our story, an elevator speech of our project with the cut, color, and clarity of a fine diamond can flow from our lips. Telling our story well invites others to listen, understand, and tell others. I have heard from my favorite writing teachers that only we can tell our stories; and we must. That is important to hear because it speaks to our individual uniqueness. Our uniqueness means we have a responsibility to tell our stories because only we can do it. The world needs our story to heal and grow.
Listen to rejection, but don’t let it stop you.
By listening to rejection, I don’t mean internalizing fear, negativity and doubt. I am saying take time to process, reflect, and digest. Take time to learn what is valuable and leave the rest. Take time to greet the monkey mind that says “You are worthless.” Give it a hug and say, “You are not welcome in my brain. I have important things to do.” Gently listening to rejection makes you better in a tempering-your-steel kind of way. Listening to rejection, and making the necessary tweaks and adaptations, generates positive fuel for the engine of your dreams.
Partner with others.
Partnering is tough. Partnering means vulnerability. Partnering takes time. Partnering means compromise. Partnering means really listening. It is difficult for me to write that partnering is not easy. I love to collaborate. I love people. I value feedback. I write better in a group where writing is a communal effort based on feedback and revision. Truly. I want to be that extrovert that is a combination of silk and wit and wisdom. I want to be that leader that is so stealth that the people she is leading think they do everything themselves. I want to be that writer whose voice is so clear and personal and individual that everyone thinks I am writing especially for them. Being that person, leader, writer requires I leave the comfort of my isolation and certainty and try, fail, recalibrate, try, fail, recalibrate, and try, fail recalibrate as much as it takes, maybe even 800 times, to succeed.