Failing. I’m failing.
This thought pops into my head at least a few times a month.
You see, while Kali and I are building OTR, we’re paying our bills through our day jobs. And my day job happens to be one in which I’m running my own business. A creative business.
Sometimes it’s more wonderful than I ever imagined and sometimes it’s harder than I ever imagined, which leads me back to my point:
I feel like I’m failing.
Anytime you’re working on a creative endeavor, there are going to moments when you feel like you’re falling into a hole. You don’t know how far you’ll fall, you’re not necessarily even sure when you fell into the hole, and you have no idea if you’ll hit rock bottom or if you can snag a grip on the side before that happens.
When I’m falling, I’m not sure what else there is to do besides fight that fall, reach for any grip I can manage, and keep myself from hitting rock bottom.
What does rock bottom look like? I’m not sure yet, but I’m guessing it has something to do with quitting. Succumbing to the self doubt. Allowing yourself to give into the fall and, not only hit rock bottom, but not even attempt to get back up.
What It Really Looks Like to Follow Your Dream
I got my start in creativity in the startup world. A world where you spend each day trying and failing and trying again, learning all the while and hoping your company will live to tell about it.
But that’s not what mass media would have you think…
Mass media much prefers the stories of 20-something college dropouts who make millions when their crazy business idea IPOs. That’s a much more fun story to tell.
Silicon Valley goes crazy! Tech founders younger than your own children! College dropouts are disrupting everything! People getting rich overnight!
Let’s talk about what Silicon Valley really looks like.
Startup founder is regular person who has an idea that keeps him or her awake at night. Then the founder decides to build a prototype, get users. This step alone could take months.
Then startup founder tries to pitch to investors or try to get into an incubator. Startup founder will look for some co-founders because he or she knows that will help get investment. If some investment money comes in, startup founder now literally stays awake at night as he or she spends every minute of his or her life building and attempting growth.
It’s not pretty or glamorous. In fact, it can get kind of stinky (after day four of no time to even shower…)
Calls go unanswered. Friendships dwindle as startup founders’ friends don’t understand why he or she can’t take just a little break for a social life. Families feel neglected. Startup founder keeps his or her relationships and mental well-being together by just a thread. Startup founder’s life becomes duct tape and spit.
Then some growth happens. Maybe some hiring or more investment. Something that looks like “success” appears. Startup founder can slow down! Take a breath! Go out!
Except startup founder now has employees to feed. Investors to answer to. Growth to achieve.
No matter the amount of success the startup founder reaches, the pressures never subside – they simply change.
This isn’t the story that the media likes to tell because it’s not even remotely exciting. In fact, it’s hard as hell. But here’s the thing to remember: for that startup founder, there is no other way.
Because when you feel compelled to do something, when you have a calling to answer to, you will give it everything you’ve got. You have to.
What’s Your Story with Failure?
What I outline above isn’t my story directly. It’s what I’ve seen my friends, my bosses, and my husband go through. I’ve simply been a friend, employee, and wife to these founders.
But now that I’ve seen it and understand it, it helps me understand my own story with failure.
I’m not trying to grow a business that scales. I’m trying to pay my bills in a way that gives me more time and flexibility to work on OTR. The pressures I face are much different than a startup founder’s pressures.
But I need this to succeed because OTR is my calling. Therefore, the pressure I feel to succeed is extraordinary… even though there’s no guidebook to rely on.
There’s no one to tell me how to run a business. Books and blog posts help, but I still have to learn and iterate myself. There are people who can support me, but I’m still the one with skin in the game.
So in moments when I think I’m not playing at my best, it feels like the entire world is crumbling down around me. And I don’t have the luxury of teammates or a salary to see me through. Instead, I have demands and deadlines to meet and clients who are focused on my deliverables – not on how I’m feeling.
In those moments, it takes all I can give to keep it together and keep moving forward. Spit and duct tape.
Feeling Failure, But Not Succumbing to It
The real question here is how to live with a feeling that I know won’t go away – but not to let myself succumb to it.
The only answer I have so far: just keep swimming*.
When I feel like I’m failing, I aim for a win. Write that post. Send that strategy. Put my head down and work.
Will the work take twice as long as usual? For sure – my head’s not in a good place. But getting it done will give me the momentum to keep going.
If you feel like you’re about to drown in failure, keep kicking your legs. Do whatever you have to in order to keep your head above water. Sooner or later, a lifeline will come along. For me, it could be a more productive day the next day. Or it could be a new client. Or it could be simply having a good night’s sleep and a new perspective.
Keep your head above water for as long as you can. Stay afloat long enough to survive – just like a startup.
The Work and Beauty of Creativity
We often talk about creativity in relation to the beauty it produces. But it’s easy to ignore or forget the blood, sweat, and tears that go into creating that beauty.
Creativity is beautiful and it’s work – you can’t have one without the other. But that’s okay! In fact, I prefer it. Because when we work for something really hard – sometimes losing sleep over it even – then we treasure it all the more.
Whatever you’re creating is your baby. Babies are cute and cuddly, but they also cry and poop a lot. That’s just the way it is.
But when you take care of your baby, it will grow up to be more wonderful than you ever imagined. So dive into the work and the beauty of creativity – and never let the feelings of failure take you down.
Image Credit: Daryn Bartlett