Episode 202: Word Swap Fail for Learn
Welcome back to the show. I’m so happy that you’re here! Welcome to season five of live free creative. Can you believe that it has been four whole years since I first sat down with this microphone?
Today’s episode is number 202. We are going to do another word swap. This time we’re swapping the word fail for learn.
It feels like an appropriate Word Swap for this time of year: the back-to-school season. We are headed back in to learn new things, to try things, to try to absorb and master things that we haven’t figured out before.
The tendency can be to feel like if we’re not doing well right off the bat, if you’re not doing it the first time or the second time, or even the third time that we must just not be good at it, we must not be able to accomplish this sort of thing.
If you’re not going to school, or if you don’t have children going to school and is just another regular September month for you, I’m sure that there are things happening in your life that sometimes feel a little bit like they failed. Maybe something feels a little bit disappointing, or a little bit frustrating? I hope that in today’s word swap, I can give you some new ways to think about those disappointments.
It’s totally okay to be disappointed. Totally okay to feel sad or frustrated or angry or ashamed. And there is an option, an opportunity to let some of those things pass through you and for you to emerge stronger and more resilient, more hopeful, and more expansive on the other side.
Segment: Pause for a Poem
Before we dive into the episode, I want to share a quick pause for a poem.
When I compare what I have lost
with what I have gained,
what I have missed
with what attained
little room do I find for pride?
I am aware how many
days have been idly spent?
How like an arrow, the good intent
has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare to
measure loss and gain in this wise
defeat may be victory in disguise.
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
Loss and Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Now let’s take a second to thank this week’s sponsors.
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Word Swap Magic: Fail for Learn
Let me talk to you about this Word Swap Magic. It’s a good one: Fail for Learn.
I want to start with a couple examples that you may or may not have heard before. Here’s a story about Vera Wang that I had never heard:
“I started figure skating when I was seven. Skating is a very intense sport. It’s all self-generated. You have no one, but yourself. And when you’re in the top 20 skaters in the United States or world, pretty much all of you have the same technical abilities, but it’s all about who can bring it out under pressure. As hard as I tried and as hard as I worked, I never really achieved the level I wanted. It was a very hard realization that since I was in my late teens, I was never going to get better. I wasn’t going to make the Olympic team. There were younger skaters coming up. So, I quit. And I think quitting was a sign to me that I failed. I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to find something else in my life that meant quite as much. I knew no other life. To bounce back from that. It takes so many different things. It takes an acceptance that you must move on, and it takes being open to new experiences.”-Vera Wang
Vera Wang went on from this Olympic dreams failure to becoming an assistant at Vogue magazine. She worked there for years, was climbing the ladder, and eventually was passed over as editor-in-chief at the time that she expected that it was her next role. Realizing that her career in the magazine had plateaued and she was never going to be the editor-in-chief. She, once again, decided to quit.
At 40-years-old, she left Vogue to take a position at Ralph Lauren as the design director for accessories. A few years into this new position, Vera Wang became a bride. A frustrated bride who was not able to find a wedding dress that she loved.
After designing her own wedding gown and commissioning a dress maker to bring it to life, Vera opened her own bridal boutique in New York city where she sold designer couture gowns and launched her own collection of bridal wear. The success of her bridalwear line has since expanded the company to include fragrances jewelry, home products, lingerie, and a whole ready to wear clothing line called Simply Vera.
Wang has said, “Don’t be afraid of failing. I think not trying is worse than failing. Have the courage to try. Otherwise, what are we here for?”
Who knew that starting as a figure skater with crushed Olympic dreams and then moving on to the incredibly intense and competitive world of fashion magazines, especially when she was in it (in the 80’s) and failing, would be the exact right pathway for Vera Wang to become the powerhouse visionary woman that she is today?
Here’s another example from Ariana Huffington.
“My mother used to call failure a stepping stone to success, as opposed to the opposite of success. When you frame failure, that way it changes dramatically what you’re willing to do, how you’re willing to invent and the risks you’ll take. I don’t mean you have to try to fail. That will take care of itself, but in my own life, a key component of whatever successes I’ve had has been what I’ve learned from my failures. When I ran for the governor of California in 2003, it was a failure, but I learned a tremendous amount about the power of the internet. I also learned a lot about myself, about communicating and being able to touch people’s hearts and minds and listening. All the things that were engrained in me during this campaign had an impact in forming Huffington Post.” -Ariana Huffington
I wanted to dig a little bit into Ariana’s past. I didn’t know a lot about her.
I was fascinated that she had a book rejected by 36 different publishers and that she failed to get more than 0.55% of the vote when she ran for California governor in 2003. That is a very spectacular failure, teeny tiny percentage of the vote. Now she’s the founder of Huffington Post, which is one of the biggest news websites in the world and the author of more than a dozen books.
I love that she shares that quote from her mother, “Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a steppingstone to success.”
What if Failure Isn’t Bad?
This right here is where the word swap magic comes in. What if we have it wrong about failure? What if all the negative ideas that we project onto the experience of not achieving your primary goal, the first time aren’t negative?
What if all those failures are rungs on the ladder toward our goal? Toward our purpose toward our potential toward the unfolding of this pathway that we didn’t even know existed?
I am positive that Vera training as a young teenager for the figure skating Olympic games had no idea what her life would end up becoming had no idea the trajectory that she would be going.
She took it one step at a time.
Even quitting something that we really looked down upon I think in our culture. Even quitting became a pathway forward.
What if it’s a fantastic idea to try and learn and try and learn and use the information that we gain along the way to try again?
I want you to think back on your own life. When did you realize for the first time that failure was a thing?
I don’t remember really having a concept around the idea of it being wrong to not do the thing that I was trying to do or not be able to until I was probably an adolescent. So much of our childhood, we are allowed to and encouraged to try and fall and try again.
And it’s okay because we’re practicing. It’s okay because we have not yet imposed the idea of accomplishment as success onto young children. We know that they’re learning, but when do we stop? When do we stop learning? What is the point at which we no longer allow ourselves the space to learn and to grow and to develop?
When do we start to assume that we’re supposed to already know and supposed to already be good at things?
I want to tell you the definitions of failure. Failure is a noun. Number one definition is a lack of success. Number two definition is the omission of expected or required. Something that I find interesting about these definitions is that they require further definition.
If failure is a lack of success, it wholly depends on what we define as success. If failure is the omission of expected or required action, it wholly depends on what you define as the expect.
How often do you feel like you’re failing because you haven’t clearly defined your definition of success?
How often do you feel like you or someone else is not doing a very good job because there isn’t a very clear definition surrounding the expectation?
This is something I’ve been learning a lot with my kids over the last few years. That if they don’t understand what the expectation is for a family guideline, a rule, a chore, it’s very unlikely that they’re going to meet it. And it’s my responsibility to show them or teach them what the expectation is and help them learn the process of getting there.
It isn’t a one-time thing. It isn’t, one and done. You’ve got it now.
Growing up is a process of learning and we learn as we fall short. What else we need to do? What further steps can we take our progress as humans? Our progression, our development doesn’t end at adolescence or at adulthood, at 18 or 21 or 25.
We continue to grow and develop and learn. And that is great news!
We have so much wonderful life ahead of us at any stage. How are we going to use it? What are we going to do? What do we want?
I’ve told this story before. I’m going to share it again. It’s probably been a while. The podcast has been around for four whole years! Can you believe that? So somewhere over 200 episodes, I’ve shared this story about failure and learning. This has to do with clarity around success. and clarity around purpose.
My Own Failure as Learning
When I first quit my nursing job to work online, full-time work as a full-time blogger which has then, morphed into a blogger and a podcaster and an author and a speaker and a retreat host.
I missed my interaction with people. I had been working in an office where I met with patients every day and I had coworkers. And so going from that environment into sitting at home in my pajamas with my computer writing blog posts during nap time and communicating with people just over email, I started to feel this lack of in person connection.
I had friends, I had a supportive family, and yet I wanted to interact with my community, the community that I was building online. At that time, I was sharing a lot of DIY creative projects, craft projects, home decor projects, design. I thought I want to do these things in person with people.
And so, I decided I was going to host a workshop. My very first workshop I did in collaboration with a local venue. If you live in Austin, Texas, The Paper Craft Pantry, still there still going. The amazing Pei Sim, the owner invited me to come teach at her shop and she handled the marketing, the ticket sales, everything.
So, it was beautiful. Absolutely wonderful. It was sold out. I went and I taught, I had a great time. I was interacting with people in real life. I was teaching them to use their hands, to make something creative and all those positive emotions and the feeling of making something and creating something I got to share with this group of people.
It was just such a highlight. And I decided I wanted to do that on my own as well. I was going to host a workshop by myself. So, then it became on me to find the venue and to do the marketing and to sell the tickets.
I found a local spot that I thought was cute and I rented it for an afternoon, and I decided I was going to have 10 people.
I had planned out all the delicious food, like a big charcuterie board and some drinks and snacks and things. And I bought all the materials that I would need. I had to order them online ahead of time. So, I ordered everything online and I sent out my marketing materials for this workshop and it was crickets, no one responded at all.
At this point I had a fairly engaged community on my blog. This was back in the day when we would still leave comments on people’s blogs. Instagram was rolling. This was probably 2014 or 2015, and I had a fair community on Instagram that was interacting regularly. And so, to have absolutely no response felt like failure.
I did another little, tentative push…I mentioned it and I had one person sign up. One person signed up for this workshop. I probably needed about six people to sign up in order to even break even financially, not to mention the hours that I had put into not only learning the craft throughout, the last few years, but also preparing, planning, getting materials, creating the marketing materials, all the things that went into it.
I felt upside down. I felt like what is even the point?
I sat down with Dave to have a heart to heart, and I said, Hun, I just don’t know if this is even worth it. I just am such a failure. Maybe I should just cancel it. Only one person has signed up. I planned on 10. Maybe I should just refund the money and see if I can get my money back for the things that I ordered.
Like I was spinning about it.
Dave was so wise, he said, what is the point of the workshop? Why do you want to do it? What is the purpose? These right here are questions that clarify the definition of success. Questions that clarify the expectation. I said, I just really want to spend time in person with people creating something beautiful.
Dave said, it sounds like you can do that. Even if you don’t make any money, even if you’re spending hundreds of dollars to host this event, you can fulfill that purpose. You can reach that success.
And so, I did!
I invited for free a handful of friends to come join me as a favor. I really framed this as I would love to host you, please come. I know that it’s taking time. I filled the extra seats with friends.
I bought all the snacks and made this beautiful charcuterie board. It was a lovely afternoon. The sun was shining. There was a light breeze. It wasn’t too hot. The venue was beautiful. All these women came, the one paid participant and the other nine friends came and filled the seats and filled the space with energy and love and excitement.
And we spent a couple hours together creating things. Being artistic, being imaginative, having fun, connecting. It was impactful. It was beautiful. And it was an important lesson for me in making sure to clarify what I was trying to achieve, making sure to not measure my level of success or failure based on some random extraneous measurement.
So often when I feel bad, like I’m doing something wrong or I’m not doing enough. It’s because I’m measuring myself against someone else’s ideal. I’m measuring myself against a societal or cultural standard.
I’m measuring myself against what I think someone like me is supposed to do.
Do you remember this? Yeah, we did a whole episode, a Word Swap Magic episode about Should. Why do we do this to ourselves? We think we SHOULD. And so, then we measure ourselves against this level of someone else’s idea of success. When we can rein all that in and sweep away the dust of other people’s expectations and external measurements, then we can find some clarity around what it is that we’re trying to achieve.
My guess is that our failures will start to look a lot like stepping stones. My guess is that our failures start to look like lessons. They start to look like pieces along our pathway.
Museum of Failure
Dr. Samuel West is a licensed psychologist with a PhD in organizational psychology. He’s also the founder of something called the Museum of Failure.
This Museum of Failure is a collection of failed products and services from around the world. With the intent to teach the public that many of all innovation projects.
Dr. West has said, “Failure is inherent to the research process, observing results, and then continuing with iterations to make progress. But the problem is that failure isn’t automatically communicated with the outside world, even within the research community where failure should be a given publication bias means that there’s a huge problem with discussing and accepting failure.”
He says that innovation and progress require an acceptance of failure. And so, the Museum of Failure aims to stimulate productive discussion about failure and inspire us to take meaningful risks.
Taking risks is one of the things that people who are in hospice close to the end of their lives say is something that they wished they had done more. In an article on Mind, Body Green, social worker Grace Bluerock shares that she spent six years working with hospice care patients.
They were some of the most profound years of her life. She says, as she sat behind the bedside of dying men and women. And tried to help them make peace with their time spent on earth. Each story that emerged was unique, but certain disappointments were expressed repeatedly in this article.
Grace outlines, nine regrets expressed by hospice patients and teaches us how they can help us to living a better life. Among the nine, there are a couple that really stand out as they relate to failure. One is that people wish they had taken more risks. Many felt that a fear of failure caused them to play it too safe. They knew that they could have had a fuller more fulfilling life. If they had taken some risks and disturbed the status quo.
Another related regret was that these people wished that they had lived their dream. Many people’s lifelong dreams went unfulfilled because they were too concerned with trying to live up to someone else’s expectation.
This all sounds very familiar. It sounds like failure. It sounds like being worried about someone else’s idea of success, someone else’s expectation, not being clear about what you want and allowing yourself to learn as you head in the direction of your dreams as you head in the direction of meaningful, fulfilling relationships and experiences that yes, inherently involve some level of risk.
Can you Learn from Unmet Expectations?
Of things not working out the way that you hoped of, maybe things taking a little bit more time or investments feeling like they didn’t quite pan out the way that you thought they might.
Can you step back with this word swap and reframe the way that you think you might have failed for curiosity around what you might have learned?
This exercise is incredibly powerful.
I just want to leave you today with a couple final introspective questions:
What would you try if you didn’t think failure was an option?
What is that little spark of passion or interest or curiosity or wonder within you–that if you fanned the flame with hope, rather than squashing it with fear would emerge and grow into something incredible that you could learn from?
The poet. Ebert Hubbard said “There is no failure, except in no longer trying.”
I want to encourage you to try on this mental shift of taking failure and swapping it for learning, starting to reframe your past experiences, your present experiences, and your future experiences through the lens that failure is a frame of mind. And so, learning can be also.
Thank you so much for joining me here today. In the first episode of season five of Live Free Creative podcast, I hope I’ve given you something to think about a new and empowering way to think about the things that happen in your life and what you’re hoping to achieve in the future. If you’re new to the show, take a minute and hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss an episode. There’s lots of fun ones coming your way over the next year in this season!
I also want to remind you that the 200-Episode giveaway has just ended. So, you can head to livefreecreative.co/giveaway and find out if you were a winner.
One of the ways to enter that giveaway was to leave a five-star rating and a written review on iTunes. And so many of you take advantage of that. And I want to encourage you– giveaway or no giveaway–to continue to leave your thoughts in writing on iTunes so that more people can discover what livery creative is all about and find out how it can help them feel a little bit better and live a little bit more on purpose in their daily lives.
The last thing I have for you is that the doors to Decluttered, my twice annual masterclass, are open right now. Check out the link in the show notes or head delivery, creative.co to register and join me over the next six weeks of learning. We begin September 19th.
I will see you there. And I will talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.