Failure is not a word I use for myself, I know that already sounds like some super woo woo shit, but it’s the truth, and I believe the language I use when I speak to myself greatly affects how I navigate my business, and my life. The word I use instead, is data. If something isn’t working personally or professionally, I’m just "collecting data." I can analyze it and ask myself why it isn’t working, I can come up with new ideas to try to improve it, and I can move forward knowing that just because something isn’t working right now, doesn’t mean it won’t work better soon. Using the word failure feels like an ending to me, while using the word data feels like just the beginning. The beginning of an experiment. If I’m collecting data, I’m just starting, I’m excited about what’s next, I’m looking forward to learning how to crack the code.
This post is designed to help you look at your "failures" differently. Let’s take the emotion out of this idea of failing, and let’s look at it simply for what it is, which is information. It’s always up to you if you stop, or if you keep going, after something that you really want, doesn’t work the way you hoped it would. If you try something and it doesn’t work, and you stop doing it, the story you might tell yourself indefinitely is that you failed at that thing. Let's say you tried something and it didn’t work, but you kept going - the story you might tell yourself is that the first attempt was an important stepping stone to your success.
This choice is always up to us.
The very definition of failure is: Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success. The criteria for failure depends on context, and may be relative to a particular observer or belief system.
By the very f*cking definition of this word, failure is unavoidable, but it also isn’t real. It’s all about perspective.
You can get the worksheet that corresponds with this post here.
For in depth discussion about this topic:
If you don’t change the way you look at failure, you’re going to have a very hard time being consistent and persistent while following whatever your dream might be. You will feel a lot of discouragement, instead of curiosity, and this can really affect your energy, motivation, and overall mood and outlook.
I don’t remember the exact moment I really made this internal shift for myself and stopped using the word failure, but it must have been a while ago because I have tried, stopped, and pivoted so many times, and I’ve gotten very comfortable with that because I don't view these things as failures. If I did, I’d be screwed. I wouldn't be able to get out of bed because I have so many instances where things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to at the time.
I’m going to share some projects that I was involved in that were rejected, unfinished, and that I just…quit. I think it’s so important for people to talk about this because we see about 1 percent of peoples’ work and lives - especially on social media, and we seem to only see the 1 percent that works for them. We only see their success, and the other 99 percent of sh*t that didn’t work is swept under the rug. Well, not only am I not sweeping things under the rug, I’m shaking out my rug in broad daylight for all the neighbors to see.
I’ll also share what I learned from these projects, and how I used them as tools for future endeavors. And of course I’ll be inviting you to take stock of all of the things you’ve tried and what you learned from them as well.
Alright, whip out your E-ficionado worksheet, or whatever you want to use to keep track of your work.
1. Write down all of the things that you have been telling yourself are failures - these might be related to jobs, projects, schooling, relationships, events, things you've been telling yourself were a waste of time. Write them all down. Maybe these things didn’t work the way you wanted, maybe they feel unfinished, maybe someone said something sh*tty about them. We often don’t know how much something has been affecting us, and looming over us like a dull presence, until we give it some attention. Write anything down that comes to mind.
Here are some projects of mine that didn’t "make it" and what I learned from each:
Breakfast Bandits - this was a production company I formed with a couple friends, and I had it for about 3 days before I called it quits. We filmed one video, didn’t finish the editing, and the process made me realize I had no interest in having a production company at all. I learned that I would rather have an idea and just film it on my phone quickly if I really wanted to vs. having a crew of people, going back and forth on scheduling, getting together to set stuff up, being on set all day, waiting for editing, and so on. These people were fantastic by the way it had nothing to do with them, it had everything to do with me. It was my idea to try to get something like this started and it was me who realized after one shoot that it was not the direction I wanted to go in.
So the main thing I learned from this experience is that I like getting ideas out quickly. While others might really care about the quality of the video footage, the lighting, the audio, etc., which is all great, I've learned that I prioritize getting my message out there faster. So this project made me look at what I was doing and ask myself, could this have been more simple? Could I have achieved the result I wanted with a phone and a tripod instead of a crew, lights, lav mics, etc.? And for me the answer was yes.
There was a pilot my friends and I wrote that we pitched around for several months, maybe even close to a year. We still to this day don’t know exactly what happened, but our script got into the wrong hands, and our pilot was stolen. They used the same exact name of the show, same exact premise, same characters, and all they did was replace our lead characters (which were 3 women), and they replaced them with 3 men. I believe the pilot was filmed but it never aired, and unfortunately, networks can get away with taking ideas from up and comers because they know they don't have the money to fight it. So, the advice we were given was actually to just hope that the show becomes a huge hit so that way when we prove it was our idea, the legal fees we pay will be worth the payout from this hit TV show. This really f*cking sucked. It didn’t feel like I was gonna learn sh*t at this moment. I just felt very used, sad, disappointed, and shocked.
However, months later when I launched my first business, Dicks by Delanie, I had learned from this experience that I needed to protect all of my intellectual property as much as possible going forward. I took every precaution, I trademarked everything, and I felt secure knowing that I owned my stuff. I do this with everything now. This also taught me that if I have a good idea, I don’t sit around waiting for a year for someone to tell me it’s a good enough idea to move forward with. I tell a few trusted people about my ideas now and just make them happen on my own. I learned to create my own opportunities instead of leaving things up to chance.
There was a short film I made with some friends. We stayed in a cabin in the woods for a weekend to shoot it. We had no script, it was all improvised - we just had a rough idea of what we wanted. The editing was never finished, there’s just footage of this out there somewhere, and although it was a really fun weekend, it was also a big ol' mess.
What I learned from this project is to be prepared, have clear agreements, and to set expectations. Everyone should be on the same page - they should know what role they play, what their duties are, how long deliverables will take - ahead of time. Whether this needs to be discussed verbally, or laid out in a written agreement or email. I've never gone into a collaboration without these since.
You Came Out Of Me - This is a podcast I recorded with my mom. We recorded a few episodes together - it was really fun, the material was very honest and raw, we thought it would resonate with a lot of people, but it was just going to be a lot of work. It was a project that we just didn't have the bandwidth for and ultimately other things had to take priority.
This experience taught me that I was really suffering from shiny object syndrome, which is basically perpetual distraction for entrepreneurs. Because I'm someone who likes to try new things, learn new things, start new projects - I have the tendency to never settle on something, and that can really stunt my growth. Letting go of this project made me realize I had a pattern of going full throttle into projects quickly before considering the workload and time commitment that goes along with any project that you want to make well, and I'd either burn out, or quit.
2. Write down 1 thing you learned from each item on your list.
3. Do you notice a theme? Now that you can see what you learned from each item on your list, can you identify a theme about yourself?
For example, the big theme I learned about myself through these projects is that I like maintaining control while bringing my ideas to fruition - creative control, working in a controlled environment, logistics, quality, the speed at which things get finished, and so on. And of course I relinquish control all the time in order to get things done, but it's always to a small team that I trust, and expectations have already been set. This has been very helpful to know about myself.
Write down a theme you've discovered about you.
4. How are you going to leverage this information as you move forward?
For example, knowing that I enjoy having some control, overseeing projects, and leading. has made me realize that I thrive on small teams, or doing solo work. Being a part of a huge collaboration just isn't my jam and I'd be better off continuing to pursue the opposite.
5. Write down 1 action step you can implement today.
For me it was to leave any collaborations that weren't moving me forward towards my goals, and to instead, focus on my solo sh*t.
I just want to leave you with a reminder that nothing is a waste. Every attempt that didn’t quite work the way you had hoped it would at the time, you learned something incredibly important about yourself.
It’s not failure, it's education.
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