A Note on Failure

When I first made the decision to start my own business, in addition to writing the business plan, trademarking a name, researching my potential customer base, and developing my new brand, I reached out to other entrepreneurs and began to do my own research. There was one word that came up in virtually every conversation I had, interview I read, and program I watched — failure. Now an omnipresent buzzword for the entrepreneurial landscape, it refers to unsuccessful attempts to actualize or bring to fruition an idea, business or plan and the lessons gained from that process.  Though no one enjoys failure, countless successful entrepreneurs as well as successful individuals in any number of professional fields have cited the lessons accrued through professional, financial, and even personal failures as more valuable than their best success. Failure, it seems, is an extraordinary professor.

A few weeks ago, someone tweeted something that I found interesting — that failure is a privilege. I thought about that quite a bit. And I began to really think about this “cult of failure.” Sure, its important to learn how to handle failure and learn from each unsuccessful undertaking, but the ability to continue to do so without results is not an easy endeavor. Whether personal responsibilities, a dint in one’s self-esteem or just the general anxiety of the uncertain gets in the way, the attitude of  embracing failure as part of the process is not an easy swallow for most.

I have a love for graduation speeches. Each year during graduation season, I make a point to read/watch some of the most poignant. This year, I was most inspired by the candidness of Michael Lewis’ Princeton speech. In his speech, he touts luck as a part of the journey to success. He acknowledges that, “People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people.” In my experience, this couldn’t be a truer statement. Currently, I am reading By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. In the book, both women acknowledge their hard work, excellent leadership, and smarts weren’t the only factors that played a part in their success. It was also in the timing — something that they couldn’t predict or plan for. Yes, learning from failure is crucial. But also realizing that there are certain parts of the process that can’t be planned or expected is also important. The conversation around failure is an interesting one to be had. Its been my experience that the lessons gained in business are also applicable personally and vice versa. How have you responded personally or professionally to the idea of failure?

When Discomfort Becomes a Part of Your Routine

I gave myself 8 weeks to train. 5 days a week (with the other two days I spend time cross training), I run (ok run/walk) approximately three miles. On December 9th, I’m participating in the Hot Chocolate 5K run in Phoenix. I’ve never been a long distance runner (always a sprinter) but its been a long term goal of mine to participate in a long distance run. Its also been a goal of mine to get in top shape. The process has been both incredibly satisfying and difficult to say the least.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried something new — deliberately putting myself in situations that make me a little uncomfortable, i.e. going to events where I know no one, traveling to a foreign country by myself (Prague), striking up conversations with complete strangers, taking an improv class, trying bikram yoga for a straight month. This has been a fruitful exercise that has disrupted my routine and forced me to challenge myself in the hopes of inspiring creativity and creating more diverse life experiences. The above video is of Whitney Johnson, an entrepreneur and regular Harvard Business Review blogger, on the merits of disrupting yourself.

Though there has been some push back to this idea of disruption, particularly when it comes to your career, I found this idea inspiring. By making yourself a bit uncomfortable, you can learn more about yourself, find different ways to problem solve, and most importantly shake things up a bit. Now, I’m really interested in becoming more athletic. I want to try different things like martial arts, boxing, dancing, yoga and take my body as far as it can go. I was in part inspired by The Olympics and folks like Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps. Being physically strong is important to me and I’ve seen a difference already in the quality of my work.

I know it sounds counterintuitive to tell you to seek out ways to make yourself a bit uncomfortable but I can tell you that there’s value in trying new things. And learning new things about yourself. As Riley Gibson, CEO of Napkin Labs, asks in his Fast Company piece, “What are you doing to make yourself uncomfortable today?”


(The above picture is our family dog Simba)

I think, at some level, I’ve always wanted to be a hyphenate; to become someone who is skillful at many things. I’d like to experience several re-births over the course of my professional life. I’d prefer to not be known for just one thing. Now, I think of myself as a writer-entrepreneur.

One part of this mashup is inherently less social than the other. But it’s nonetheless important to find a place, a home, a method that facilitates my best work in both. From a literary perspective, all of the greats have theirs. Poets and Writers lists a few:

“Conrad Aiken worked at a refectory table in the dining room; Robert Graves wrote in a room furnished only with objects made by hand. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up; D. H. Lawrence under a tree. William Maxwell preferred “small messy rooms that don’t look out on anything interesting.” Katherine Anne Porter said she got her writing done in the country, where she lived like a hermit. Ben Franklin wrote in the bathtub, Jane Austen amid family life, Marcel Proust in the confines of his bed. Balzac ate an enormous meal at five in the evening, slept till midnight, then got up and wrote at a small desk in his room for sixteen hours straight, fueled by endless cups of coffee. Toni Morrison found refuge in a motel room when her children were small; E. B. White sought it in a cabin on the shore. Due to her problem back, Penelope Lively works in an armchair, with an “ancient electronic typewriter” on her lap, while A. L. Kennedy finds comfort in a “monster black chair” in a room “the color of blood.”

When I’m down South, I’ve found I do my best work in a mostly quiet, spare room, some music (think Nina Simone) and some wine. It helps root me; I feel at ease. I think its necessary to find your “place” your home away from home. Or, if in your home, a place where you feel comfortable and that aids in the creation of your best work. In New York, where I currently live, my preferred work environment varies. In my apartment, I prefer to work in bed with no noise.

I recently finished Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain mentions a psychological term called the “sweet spot,” the place where you are optimally stimulated. This place could be a park, a coffee shop, a book store, etc. Your sweet spot may only keep you creatively or professionally fecund at certain points of the day but her larger point is a good one. By finding your sweet spot(s) you are able to “increase satisfaction in every arena of your life.” What’s your place? Your sweet spot?