I want to talk to you about failure, and encourage you to reframe how you see your past. I’m going to say something that might not make any sense but bear with me.
Your failures can be part of your creative lineage.
Let me tell you a story.
3 years ago, I closed the doors and turned off the lights at wedOcracy. I walked away from the startup world.
I did this because it was clear that the growth we were hoping for was not arriving anytime soon. My co-founder and I had been invited to major tech events and even pitched at SXSW. We had raised an initial round of funding. We attended a well-known tech accelerator where mentors guided us.
I immersed myself in the world of weddings. I studied wedding statistics. I know things that I probably have no business knowing about weddings. A few years after we launched, we closed wedOcracy’s doors because we were not growing as fast as we needed to. We had worked so hard, and I felt like a failure.
Our goal was to make weddings more social, more engaged and more fun. We didn’t find the technology, so we built it. In many ways, we succeeded. We helped couples from several counties make their weddings more fun and social. But I also had to make the difficult choice of closing the doors when it was time to move on.
As the startup founder, I had to write a final blog post to send out to our subscribers.
It was a horrible feeling.
Fast forward to today, and I realized that the things I learned about weddings can now help my wedding photography client. This month, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to use the things I learned in the wedding industry. While running this company, I researched weddings. I know more than I should know. I became a nerd in the wedding industry.
This month, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to use the things I learned in the wedding industry. While running this company, I researched weddings. I know more than I should know.
I became a nerd in the wedding industry.
I’ve started working with wedding and event photographer Chris Wodjak. Supporting her web design and marketing needs allowed me to reframe how I think about failure.
Your Creative Failures Can Lead To Your Future Creative Success
- Your past creative mistakes can be the ancestors for your future success. It is an honor to work with this talented photographer and bring all the skills and research I gained from my wedding startup days to support her in growing her business.
- The knowledge never leads you. While I moved on from the startup world, I still learned how to design and develop applications for startups. I still learned how to create effective marketing strategies for millennial brides. The knowledge stays with you.
- Sometimes, your true purpose is different from what you can imagine. When I closed the doors, I felt like a failure. I could not see (or understand) how I could use all of my efforts towards anything else.
Questions To Ask Yourself When You Feel Like A Creative Failure
- What if your failures are part of your future success?
- What if you were not meant to succeed in one area, but instead learn something to take you to the next stage?
- Can you learn to see your failures as the legacy for your success? What if your past failure is a creative ancestor for your future success?
I hope you find that day when your past mistakes feel like ancestors in your creative lineage. They are teaching you things. They are supporting your journey in ways that might sometimes feel difficult.
Keep going dear creative. I want to see your brilliance.
Your Future Self
There will always be haters. That’s part of the risk that comes with choosing to take your place in the world of creativity.
Not everyone will love your work. There will be those who do. There will be haters. There will be those who do not like your drawing, poem, photo, painting, essay or the filter you used just before you publish Instagram.
Let me tell you a story.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to share my work/my words as a poet with audiences in Mexico City. I remember this young woman who came up to me after the reading in Coyoacan. She asked if she could speak to me privately. She spoke softly as I leaned in closer to hear what she had to say.
She told me about her best friend who died the week before. She told me about how she was not there to sit with her in the hospital bed. She wore a cloud of guilt on her face and sat there sobbing. She must have been 22 years old. Her friend was also very young. She thanked me for the poem I read. I shared my sadness about the ones I had loved and lost in my life. I realized that she needed to hear that poem in the same way I needed her to tell me how it impacted her.
There were people who loved the poems, but there were also those who needed it. They came up to me and told me that poetry was the thing that was sustaining them right now. ⠀There are those who need your words like they need air and good. Focus on them.
Focus On The People Who Need Your Creativity
But if there is anything I have learned to help me be a more resilient creative it is this: Are you listening? Write this down. Type it into your phone.
Use it as a screensaver. Say it to all of your fellow creative friends. Put it on a t-shirt or get it made into stickers.
Ready for it?
There will be people who love your creative work and people who hate your work. There will also be those people who need your work. Focus on the people who need your work. Let that sink in for a minute. Are you breathing a bit easier? Is the tightness in your chest easing up? Are you feeling a little bit more courageous when it comes to sharing your work out into the world? I hope so.
Your true creative fans will become more important than the haters.
When you doubt yourself, feel the doubt but also remember the people who need your work. What would they say? Keep their voices in your head.⠀
We forget about the people who need our work. They are not always so obvious. Sometimes they skip into our DMs with a note of thanks and a tale of the life they’ve lived and how our work has supported them. Sometimes they cry while reading something you wrote. They need your work like we all need food and air and water, necessary things for physical survival.
They understand that there are also necessary things for emotional survival and necessary things for creative survival.
The people who need your work check your Instagram feed first thing in the morning, just upon waking. Sometimes they don’t leave the bed before scrolling through your feed.
They keep their phone there just for you. If they see you’ve tweeted or shared a story, they immediately scroll through to find you and your work.
Your work is a lifeline for them.
I recently wrote about the late poet Mary Oliver, and all the people she touched. We all so desperately needed her work.
Through meditating on language, nature, and belonging she taught us how to belong to ourselves by taking our place in the world and belonging to the universe in the process.
Thank them, create with them in mind. Put their picture up where you work.
Give them your energy. They will give it back.
If you focus on the people who need your creative work you will realize that you are one of those people.
We often try to solve our own problems, and then we realize this is how we can help others. This is the beauty of this approach. The haters will be there. The lovers will be there too. But there’s also the needers.
Focus on them.
Keep going. I want to see your brilliance.
Your Future Self
you are your best evidence.
you are the evidence of immense possibility. you are also evidence of failure. I want you to own the full spectrum of your creative experience. this is how you will learn to trust your creative voice and move forward when all the stories of imposter syndrome show up.
we live in a world that asks us to own our flaws but does not encourage the same when it comes to our greatness.
we’re afraid of appearing conceited or narcissistic. I’m afraid of that too. But I recently realized that I’m also afraid of living on one side of the creative spectrum where I only own the failures. This is not healthy either. This can lead to extreme self-doubt and paralysis.
in 2019, i want you to embrace the full spectrum of your creative work.
there will be days when I write inspiring (to others) poems and there will be days when my work fails. There will be days when I create beautifully designed websites and effective marketing strategies, and other days when I wonder if I should have stayed with writing instead of also incorporating technology.
and you will also have those days. I want to encourage you to own all of it. If you remember the failures with specificity, also remember the days you birthed something that felt incredible. Remember the awards in great detail. Remember the press mentions. Remember what you were wearing and what you said. Remember all of it.
you are creating a body of work.
Keep creating it, keep growing it and keep embracing the full spectrum of your creative out our.
don’t worry about being conceited. As soon as you celebrate one win, there will be a creative failure to greet you. This is the process. This is the work.
in the end, I want you to know the truth about your work: you’ve done some amazing work.
your future self
I’ve been crying a lot lately. The grief comes in waves, and sometimes I feel like my whole body is soaking like a wet towel.
I miss my late younger brother. It’s been many years since he died. He taught me so much.
I am also missing the presence of the late Chinua Achebe in the world. He would have celebrated his 88th last month. He is known as the father of African literature. He is also a fellow Nigerian.
I am mourning the loss of my teachers. Achebe was one of them. Some of them I know by blood, and others became my mentors. I am also in awe of the work they were able to do, at a time when many of them had fewer opportunities than I do.
But more importantly, Achebe is my creative ancestor: Someone in my creative lineage who created worth that allowed me to see where I could go.
They have put me here to do this work.
I set up an altar to honor them. And I put June Jordan there. She is known as the late poet, who published more than 28 books. She is also known as a champion for human rights. But for me, she was my teacher.
She was my mentor. She was the one who believed in my voice and told me that I had something. She allowed me to see my voice as a trail that I should follow. She believed it was worth following.
She is my creative ancestor.
Creative ancestors come before us. We create altars to them. We honor them. We celebrate them. Some of them died young. Some of them died after living a full life. All of them impacted our work and put us here to do this work.
I remember something that I can’t forget. A few months ago, a fellow poet posted something about his mentor, a Mexican poet who had recently died. I saw what he posted, and something inside me recognized the grief that filled my chest.
His mentor was not my teacher, but I was aware that I felt a deep sadness as if I had been in relation to this poet.
I realized that my sadness was connected to my own relationship with my mentor.
My sadness was due to the fact that I realized my mentor had prepared me to put my feet in her shoes. She had prepared me to step into my own light and create space for others to find that voice.
I was grieving what she showed me. She allowed me to believe that I could dream of having a voice. Through her, I saw a window into what I could become.
And when our mentors die, something inside us has to start living. We become the next generation of mentors for others.
But I wasn’t ready yet. I wanted more time. June had been dead for more than 15 years and I still wanted to tell her that I did not know if I was ready.
When our mentors die, they become our creative ancestors. We do not share blood, but we do share the love of language and a shared creative DNA. We become part of their legacy, and the best way to honor this is to leave our own.
I will let myself cry a lot. I must start asking myself if I am ready to become who I can become. I do not know the answer, but I know this:
I will try.
I have to try.
I made this promise to my brother many years ago. I said this to him a year before he died. I’ll try, When I’m scared, I’ll try. When I don’t know what’s next, I’ll try. I have to try. I have to show up.
As June Jordan says in her song for South African women “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Who are your creative ancestors? Name them. Say their names.
Your Future Self