Monday, March 07, 2011

Word of the Week: Failure

Once upon a time, I was terrified of failure. I was scared to look stupid, to work hard at something that people laughed at or rejected. (Because really, wouldn't that mean that people were laughing at or rejecting me?) Then I started a business making such products as Greeting Balms, Pamper Me Purses, and Conversation Heart Balms. If you've never heard of them, you're not alone. They were utter failures.

Of course I made other products in my business, like Linzertorte lip balm and Citrus Rose lip balm and Butterfly lip balm...wait, those things also didn't sell. And by most standards that would make them failures, too. In fact these are only a few of my failures. I have failed at lots of things. My first business was ultimately a failure, and many, many of my product ideas have not worked out as I hoped and planned.

If I ever felt bad about all of those failures, Steven Pressfield's post last week about Seth Godin's new project made it all better. In What I Love About Seth Godin, Pressfield says,

"The other thing I love about Seth is that he has failed at a boatload of ventures. Seth has started publishing companies, internet companies, high-tech companies. How many have crashed and burned? Lots. But before the flames have even been extinguished, Seth has generated another idea and he’s off to the races.

"Poke the Box is about that. It’s about starting. Not talking, not dreaming, not planning. Starting and doing. Finishing and shipping."

The next logical thing for me to do was to read Poke the Box (affiliate link). It's fabulous, of course, with useful nuggets throughout. "The more you do, the more you fail," he reminds us. And, "We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them."

But the part I'll be thinking about all week is: "This might not work."
"Change is powerful, but change always comes with failure as its partner. 'This might not work' isn't merely something to be tolerated; it's something you should seek out."

It's a new way of looking at failure, a new way to acknowledge this inevitable result of creativity and innovation. And for me, I guess it means more wacky lip balm flavors and experimental products, more blooper reels and funny Facebook anecdotes. I'll "focus on the work" and continue to learn from my failures.

I highly recommend this new book/manifesto of Seth Godin's (as well as Steven Pressfield's excellent blog).

What do you think? Do you try to avoid failure, or do you embrace it, risk it, accept it, learn from it?


  1. I love this post! I'm pretty much a play-it-safe type. But I've heard it before too - pretty much every millionaire or even billionaire lost everything in the process of getting there and had to start over from nothing. My question is: when did they find the time? :)

  2. I know, right?? They must delegate some of those failures to other people! :0)

  3. Brilliant post Emily! I personally love how what I perceive as "embaressing failures" mellow into "rememberences of things that didn't work for me" with time. The Universe is kind that way. For what it's worth, I think your "failures" are gorgeous and I'm also certain they taught you a few things along the way that make your business even better today. I am a frady-cat at my core, but constantly push myself to work outside the bounds of my comfort, to supercede my own expectations and to have faith. I am so enjoying "Poke the Box" and the Indie Business Book Club!


  4. Thank you so much, Lela! Yes, when I was pulling together these photos (culled from a much larger archive of failures, believe me!) I remembered most of them fondly. Even if the idea didn't work for my customers, many times I still liked it! The idea--and the process--is never "bad" because as you say, both surely lead to improvement.

    I'm anxious about most things--real and imagined--so I really admire the "scary" things you've done in your work and your life. You've hidden your fear well, too--I'd never have guessed it!

    Thank you so much for reading AND sharing!

  5. I'm going to take the fact that you wouldn't have guessed it as a sign that I'm pushing through it well! I learned a long time ago to register and acknowledge the fear, sit with it, and then push through it. But that doesn't mean it's not still present- very tangibly- to me. :)

  6. You definitely are doing a great job.

    (I was GOING to say it was a sign that you missed your true calling and that you're an Oscar-winning actress masquerading as a beauty company CEO, but wasn't sure how that would come across...) :0)

    I could definitely relate more to the "fear has become my constant companion and I just work with/through it" members of the club than the "fearless" members. I'm pretty sure that fear has made me work harder, so I can be thankful for it, too.



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