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
You are not lost. You are just getting resourced.
There’s a narrative that says if you intend to focus on one thing but end up doing something else, then you are lost. That narrative about creativity needs to die. It no longer serves you.
Let me tell you a story.
I’ve often felt lost. I studied creative writing and education, but I was not always getting paid to write. Sometimes I got paid to teach, and other times I received a check with many zeros for reading at literary festivals. I’ve also paid my bills by working as a personal chef, copywriter, public speaker, tech startup founder, and UX web designer.
I did not understand the connection and power of the things I was learning along the way.
I taught writing and thought that it was because I was not meant to be a writer. I worked as a web designer and business owner of a software company.
I did all these things and was unsure about the next step. I felt conflicted. Maybe you feel conflicted between the work you love and the work you get paid to do?
May I suggest something that helped me?
1. Start seeing the pause or shifts in your creative career as pivots with a purpose.
2. Start telling yourself that you are not lost, but just getting resourced.
3. Remember that one day it will all make sense and come together in a way that allows you to leverage your very own intersection of creative value that you can offer. And there will be those who need exactly what you are offering.
I know things feel challenging. I know you feel lost. I know you are wondering how you started on this path and ended up over here. I know none of it makes sense.
One day it will make sense.
Try to ask yourself what each pivot is teaching you. Try to bring something from one career path into the other.
I love these wise words from the beloved late poet Mary Oliver, who passed on last week and became one of my creative ancestors.
In these words, I found an explanation that stitched together the very idea I’m trying to convey here. Your greater vision is not a profession. It is a lens through which you see the world and put everything inside it.
Maybe Impact Matters More Than Career Path?
Maybe we are not searching for careers? Maybe, in the end, we are searching for a world view through which we can look out on this world and decide how to have the greatest impact.
Today I proudly refer to myself as a multidisciplinary artist-entrepreneur. The title matters less than the impact.: to help fellow creatives find, share and use their voice to support their purpose.
I do this by writing this blog, digital strategy for web and marketing clients and building web and mobile applications. I also use those same skills I learned along the way to build my own website and market myself as a poet and web designer.
I did not realize that the work I was doing, like technology, could not yet be understood by me. It was still forming the way social networks were still forming years ago.
One Day, This Will All Make Sense For Your Creative Journey
The needs of our culture changed and made too for keeping multicultural connections through our devices, so we graduated into a greater digital literacy that made room for social media.
The same is true for your work. The works we live in now is more nuanced and demands a more multidisciplinary approach to complex challenges. This is why we have graduated to a place where we not only understand your approach, but we so desperately need it.
One day, this will make sense and you will take your place in the world of work that only you can do.
Trust yourself. Keep going. I want to see your brilliance.
Your Future Self
I’ve been feeling uninspired in my work, and want to figure out if there’s something I can do to shift this. I don’t know how to change this feeling, but I do know that the warm breeze that clings to my skin and the eruption of beautiful flowers blooming outside my house inspires me to think about the things I need to let go of.
It’s Spring 2018, and I’m doing some digital spring cleaning.
I’ve been clearing out my inbox. I’m sending old emails to the trash and unsubscribing from lists that no longer serve me.
Clearing out my digital inbox gave me the idea that I could also clear out my mental inbox.
I could use this same technique to clear my mental clutter and unsubscribe from narratives that were no longer serving me.
By taking my name (and my mental space) off of things that no longer served me, I could make more room for the things that matter. And it felt good. Like really good. So, I just kept going.
- Could I use the same technique and unsubscribe from the beliefs that have been holding me back?
- Could I just hit “unsubscribe” and let go of narratives that were no longer serving me?
- Would doing so allow me to feel more energized and connected to my work?
To get started, I had to get real with myself and reflect on the narratives that I had subscribed to.
Last year, I wrote about James Baldwin’s relationship to narratives. He wrote about how changing the narrative can also change your destiny. I started asking myself about the narratives I was buying into.
- What were the stories I was believing?
- What was I telling myself and others about who I am in the world?
- Which narratives did I think I had let go of, only to find I was still hanging onto them?
1.You have to have it all figured out before you start.
This is a hard one to admit. I generally have gone for things I believed in and taken the risk even when others doubted me, but every now and then it creeps back in. It’s brutal and can be so damaging. I’ve found that this narrative plays out even stronger for me as a woman in a male-dominated space. For example, although I own my own software development company, I have moments where I question my decision and the “you don’t know what you’re doing” narrative is so damn loud. I am unsubscribing from this one. Yep, done.
The new narrative:
- I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to do it anyway.
- I’m going to do it because I trust the impact I want to make in the world.
- I also choose to trust my background and experience, and use what I do know to propel me forward.
- The experience I do have is enough of a seed to move forward and start taking action.
I also shift focus: I focus on the impact I want to make, and not the job title I want to have.
think about the impact I want to make instead of focusing on the job I want to have. Every time I remind myself of the impact, then I am aware that I’m doing this work, taking this risk and going for it on behalf of something bigger than me. Knowing my why helps me a lot.
2. In order to find work you love, you can’t bring your full self to your work.
This one hits home. I’m a creative, which means I do many things. I’m a professional poet, own a software development company and sketch out design ideas as a UX Designer.
Does this sound familiar?
I’ve subscribed to this idea that I can only do one thing, and have to hone in on a specific career.
I’m not subscribing to that anymore. It is not serving me, and I’ve realized that not bringing my full self (and my talents) to my work diminishes the impact I have the ability to make.
The poet in me helps the public speaker in me feel confident on stage. The entrepreneur in me helps the poet focus on the business side of being an artist. The artist in me brings a unique perspective to web development. The former teacher in me helps me run a company and work with other people.
We all have nuances, and the issue is not to get rid of them. The challenge is to figure out how to leverage them to be of use and help us move forward.
The new narrative:
- The more I bring all of my nuances (professional and personal) to my work, the more effective I can be in my day to day work.
- The difficult experiences I’ve had make me even more equipped to tell a powerful and inspirational story.
- Bringing my full self to my work is about looking at everything that makes me who I am and deciding to leverage each experience and find a way to make it useful in my daily life. For example, the poet in me allows the public speaker in me to thrive. The entrepreneur in me motivates me to become a professional poet and think not just like an artist, but also like an entrepreneur.
3. You have to be fearless.
I love seeing quotes about “fearless” women, especially as we celebrate Women’s History Month right now. And I used to think I wanted to be fearless, and that being fearless was an important ingredient for my creative work.
This does not work for me. I realized that I do not want to be fearless. Any major work I’ve done has been done on the heels of fear. Fear was staring me down and asking me “what you got.” When I started my poetry career, I always had fear sitting with me each and every time I hit the stage.
Fear was never the issue. I needed my work to challenge me. I need my work to be sprinkled with a dash of fear.
This is what moves me toward the work I’m meant to do in the world. Fear tells me that I’m taking a creative risk and headed in the right direction.
The new narrative:
- I don’t want to fearless.
- I want to own my fears and use fear as an ally.
- This means that sometimes I talk to my fear. Sometimes I write it down and ask “what’s this really about.” Sometimes I ask it to be with me, to show me where I need to do next. I thank it for showing up, for pushing me and for reminding me of what’s important.
What we believe about ourselves and our capacity affects our work. There’s no way around that. For many years, I’ve felt like there were narratives I was believing that were holding me back. I didn’t know what I could do about it until I started cleaning out my email inbox. I had a huge number of email lists to unsubscribe from. I loved how unsubscribing made me feel. I felt lighter . I also felt like there was more space in my inbox for the things I actually served me now.
I decided to apply this same practice to my mental clutter, and ask myself these important questions: What were the narratives that I was unconsciously believing? How were they holding me back as an entrepreneur, as a poet and as a creative person who believes in bringing my full self to my work?
The hardest thing about this was admitting that I still subscribed to some of these narratives. But, I had to take James Baldwin’s approach and say “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
So now I’m learning to unsubscribe each and every day. It’s a daily practice. I have not perfected it yet, but I’ll let you know how things go.
Which narratives will you be unsubscribing from starting now?
In less than an hour, I will close the chapter on another day. Soon it will be Monday. Like many entrepreneurs and creatives, I will start another week of trying to share my perspective, one word and/or user interaction at a time.
But before the day is over, I want to celebrate my brother. Today is not just another day. My brother doesn’t get to turn 35 today, but here’s how I’m celebrating him.
This anniversary is a special one because I’ve learned something that has changed how I approach my work, and I want to share that with you.
Today was a difficult day
Today was a difficult day. Yesterday was also difficult. Today I miss my brother. There’s an ache that lives in my chest that will not go away. Sometimes, it’s turned up to high and I feel it more. Today is one of those days. His name was Emmanuel. He would have celebrated his 35th birthday, but he died (in a car accident) the day before his 18th birthday. Yesterday I missed him even more. Anniversaries are hard. Yesterday was hard.
Yesterday I cried. I sat on my good friend’s couch, drank wine and sobbed.
Every year, I think I will miss him less. Every year, I am proven wrong. Something different happened this year. This year I missed him dearly, but I also became acutely aware of something that completely changed how I will approach my work and creativity for years to come.
I’ve always believed that when I lost Emmanuel, I also lost my memory of him. I forgot the exact color of his cafe colored eyes. Was it a dark roast or a lighter roast? I forgot the exact shade of his skin. I remembered the muscled arms and the infectious smile, but I could not remember the exact shade of his skin. When loss clings to that tightness in your chest, sometimes memory is the only thing you can hang onto. Losing my memory of him added to my grief.
Loss Can Be A Creative Catalyst
During one of my recent meditations, I had an aha moment. For 16 years, I believed that not being able to remember all of these details meant that I would not be able to remember my brother. I felt a deep sense of loss, and I also felt like a part of my own history was disappearing.
During one of my meditations, I saw my brother’s face and he smiled at me and told me this:
Stop worrying about seeing my face, and remembering every detail. It’s a good thing that you can’t see my face. It means you’re still living. You’re still breathing. You’ve got a life to live. You’ve got poems to write and designs to sketch out and a company to run. It’s a good thing. You are alive!
This was one of those moments when I cried and smiled and cried and smiled some more. Seriously? I had never thought that maybe, just maybe this was something that could inspire me. I spent so many years feeling disheartened and frustrated when I’d close my eyes and remember my brother. Now, I was given (and gifted) a new way of thinking about all of it.
3 Things I Learned On The 17th Anniversary of My Brother’s Death
1. I do not want to waste my time.
I’m alive! I’m here! I miss him like nobody’s business, but I’m here. This means that the work I am doing (and want to keep doing) can be done. My life also reminds me that t is a privilege to be alive. I do not want to waste it.
2. Losing My Brother Has Become My Creative Catalyst
I no longer feel frustrated when I can’t remember the details of my brother’s face. It’s okay. I’m here and I’m alive and I am creating. This new perspective has shifted how I interact with this loss. It has allowed me to move from a place sadness and frustration to a place of inspiration.
If I’m alive, then I can still put my work out into the world. He cannot do that. His legacy lives on, but his capacity to continue creating his legacy ended 17 years ago.
This humbles and inspires me.
3. Your legacy starts now
When Emmanuel died, a local DJ wrote a song about him. His friends gathered to celebrate him. Although he was just 18 years old, I was acutely aware of what his legacy was. I knew that he had helped his friends (and everyone who knew him) feel like they could show up authentically and be accepted (and celebrated).
Sometimes we don’t get to live out our life’s work. Sometimes, life abruptly ends and we don’t have our “whole lives” to share our work and live out our purpose.
So, do it now.
I want to do it now.
This was the gift that knowing him gave each an every one of us that knew him. If he was able to do that in such a short time, then I know I can.
I want my legacy to be a daily act.
I want it to be about every person I interact with. I want to be acutely aware of the fact that I am building it moment by moment, interaction by interaction.
I want it to start now.
On this 17th anniversary of my brother’s death, I have been given another privilege: I’m finally able to understand that in the face of so much loss, there is living to do. I am here, which means that I have another day to create meaningful experiences both on and offline.
I have another day to write another poem.
I have another day to design another user interaction.
I have another day to use my voice and to share my very personal stories.
I have another day to add something to the universal and collective dialogue about how we create, how we lose and how we become ourselves when we least recognize ourselves.
This is my hope.
Happy Birthday, Emmanuel. Thank you for this “aha gift.” I will practice building a legacy each and every day. This is my gift to you, my dear and precious boy. It was an honor to know him. It was a gift to love him. It made me a better person and an even better sister. I felt privileged.
I hope you wake up tomorrow and start your week knowing that you are very much here and alive in the world. I hope you remember that we are all waiting for you to show up and tell your story. We need it now. We need it more than ever. We need you now. We need you now more than ever.
I recently participated in a twitter chat for young women and girls. Within a few minutes of jumping in, I got this question:
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young women today?
I immediately responded with this:
As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of self-doubt. As a woman working in tech, I’ve also had my share of doubts. The thing is, we all do. But the truth is, self-doubt kills. It kills dreams, ambitious and great ideas.
How do we work through it?
n US Startups, less than 2% of funding goes to women-led companies. Many of us are struggling with how to be who we are, raise families, run our businesses and still find funding for the work we do. All of this can lead to extreme self-doubt. I know this story all too well. In January of 2017, I closed the doors on my startup and refocused my energy towards my software development company.
I want to share a few strategies that have helped me along the way.
I do believe there is something you can do about it.
1. Use it as an ally
What are you doubting? Are you wondering if you’re smart enough, vocal enough, CEO enough?
Figure out exactly what you doubt about yourself, and turn it into something you can use as an ally. Ask your doubt to have your back.
What does this look like?: When I performed as a poet, I was often terrified to share my whole story with the audience. Would I be judged? Would I be perceived as weak? Would people want to pay their hard earned money to hear me share my really difficult experiences? The doubt didn’t go away, but my relationship to it did. I started looking to my experiences as a strength instead of a negative.
2. Be jealous with a purpose
Jealousy is a big part of self-doubt. We have to think about the fact that there’s someone else out who’s crushing it or someone who got the promotion that you didn’t get. It sucks! Yes, but what are you going to do about i. Hate them? Fester? Beat yourself up about what you are lacking? You could, and then you’d waste a lot more time and be even less likely to achieve that goal you were jealous of in the first place.
Be jealous with a purpose.
When I was growing up, my sister and I would fight over clothes. One day, we went at it over this really cool yellow shirt. Don’t ask me what brand it was or why we were fighting about it, but I do know that my mother had had enough. An hour or so into our yellow shirt fiasco, my mother sent us to our room, shut the door, and said we couldn’t come out until we had resolved the issue. What the hell was this? My sister and I looked at each other and started laughing. Here we were, middle school girls fighting over some yellow shirt. And, now the shirt was ripped and neither of us could wear it.
After we agreed to makeup, my mother sat us down and gave us these tips
- If you’re going to be jealous, use it to get where you want to go.
- There will always be someone who dresses better, looks prettier or has a better body. If you spend your life comparing yourself, you’ll be miserable.
- But, if someone has something (a skill, a strength) you seem jealous of, only put your energy into being jealous if you can use it to learn from them.
- So, next time you see a CEO killing it much better than you are, take a minute to feel horrible and then learn from them. Read the blogs they write, strike up a conversation at the next startup mixer or just email them and strike up a conversation.
- Learn how they became successful. Want to be more confident? Seek someone out who you feel is confident, use the jealousy to learn from them and that will make it worth your time.
- If you don’t use your jealousy to learn from others, you’ll end up using all this energy to feel shitty about yourself. And, that takes away from the time you already don’t have.
3. Realize that your gifts do not belong to you
Your gifts are not yours to hold back.
That might sound counter-intuitive, but I’ve learned this lesson and want to share it with as many people as I can.
I figured this out in my early twenties. I was working as a professional poet and writing teacher and I was scared to publish my work in anthologies and online publications. I loved giving readings, but I did not know if I could put myself out there even more and publish.
Then I realized that even though this was my work and my words, I was being used to tell a story. I started seeing myself as a “vessel” and understanding that my work in the world was bigger than me and was not really about me. This had a profound shift in my thinking and allowed me to get out there and out of my own way. I still struggle with it, but knowing that I had a higher purpose pushed me to submit my work each and every time.
Worried what people will think of your not so perfect blog post?
Want to publish that book but feeling self-doubt creep in?
Asking myself these questions always helps me put doubt in the rear view:
- Why are you doing your work in the world?
- Are you trying to change the way people do something for the better?
- Do you want to help people get healthy?
- Do you believe there’s a better and smarter way to do something?
- Well, guess what? If you hold back that blog post, comment, book or tweet that supports your mission, you’ll be holding back your mission. And, your talents are meant to be shared so we all learn and grow.
Your life’s work is not yours to hold back.
It may have your name attached or your particular story, but you are out there telling a story for all of us, and we all want to learn from it. Are you writing about lessons learned as an entrepreneur? This is not your story. This is one of many stories in the human tapestry of entrepreneurship. If you don’t share it with the rest of us, we won’t have that information or experience to make better choices in the future.
When you struggle with self-doubt, what helps you move on and get things done?