Failing Successfully

From fairly early childhood, I was a reserved, self-contained person. A shy introvert with anxiety issues; really it’s a wonder I ever left the house! I was also a very sensitive child, and the slings and arrows of even quite ordinary fortune hit me harder than I suspect most people realized. Everyone has coping mechanisms for dealing with the parts of life that are unpleasant, and mine was to retreat into a shell of arrogant ultracompetence. If I didn’t already know how to do it (or could pick it up without it being evident to an observer that I hadn’t done it before), it wasn’t worth doing, and that was all there was to that.

Unhealthy? Absolutely, and also ultimately self-destructive in that it prevented me from being willing or able to learn to do anything with a learning curve steep enough to notice. I didn’t learn how to learn, or that it was OK to get up and try again after falling down. This led to dropping out of college twice before finally finishing, and to dropping out of grad school twice before giving up on that entirely. It led to leaving job after job, after the first tiny misstep in learning the ropes of a new place left me feeling like a complete irredeemable failure.

Which led in turn, perhaps inevitably, to the life I am now living: That of a self-directed, self-employed creative type. But the thing is, the early period of that life was a horribly rocky time in which I had to learn to fail. Because it turns out one cannot create worthwhile things without creating a whole horrific slew of garbage, first, and throwing it away and refining techniques and getting back on the metaphorical horse. I also had to come to terms with the fact that almost all entrepreneurial endeavors fail (and indeed so did the first of mine), and that is ok. Failing does not make one a failure! It seems so obvious, but in all my life I am not sure I have ever learned a more difficult or painful lesson. (I am not actually sure I would ever have learned it had I not been able to do my failing in safe solitude with no one to offer comfort I would have been unable to perceive as anything other than mocking.)

So these days I am a moderately successful entrepreneur, and well-accomplished at failing successfully. And one of the things I have had to learn is that “failure” doesn’t always mean what others would define it as meaning. For instance, I regard it as a failure every single time I get a bad review. Does that mean I am going to rush out and try to bribe people into changing the reviews? No, of course not. For one thing, that’s a pretty shady business practice, and for another, it’s a remarkably quick way to go broke. If I made a mistake of any kind, I will obviously make it right as quickly and as thoroughly as I can, but in other cases, while I will feel bad about it, I simply accept the review and let the averages speak for themselves. And they do! Fortunately, because even though I’ve become somewhat inured to the occasional less-glowing review, it still takes 20-odd positive reviews to get the taste of a bad one out of my mouth, because I am evidently a diva.

Anyway. I’m going to feel like a poor review is a mark in the “fail” column anyway, and for years I felt bad about feeling that way, because it seemed like I ought to be able to shrug it off, “grow a thicker skin”, all those things people say. I have recently realized something, though: For me, the “personal” touch is part of what makes my products worthwhile. It’s part of what it means to be an artisan, and I don’t get to pick and choose which parts of “personal” I want to experience. The bad comes with the good, and it’s OK on the average, because the good is really, really good.

And even the bad – the poor reviews, the failures – are usually good in their way. How else do I learn to do better, if not by learning how I am lacking now?

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About Amy Young

Founder of Foam on the Range soaps. View all posts by Amy Young

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