The First Helpful Thing Failure Teaches Us

I’m going to let you in on a few secrets this week. 

These are stats and stories that I’ve never shared publicly before, not because I necessarily wanted to hide them, but because I had yet to come across an interesting perspective on failure beyond the whole “failure teaches us lessons that lead to success” song and dance.

That is until now.

As you may well know by now, last week I was busy devouring page after page of (my spirit animal) Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest treasure, Big Magic.

To say I had a few ah-ha moments is an understatement. I feel like this book should be ordained the official spell book for creativity. It’s part mystical and intriguing, part practical and actionable.

In the book, Liz shares a quote about failure that stopped me dead in my tracks:


“Failure has a function. It asks you whether you really want to go on making things.”
- Clive James


So often I feel like we hear about failure in the context of what it teaches us for the "next time" we try something. That failure makes us more prepared and experienced as we go on. I totally agree with that sentiment, however...

There is an underlying assumption with that advice that we WILL go on, that we will keep making, that we will try again.

What I love about the Clive James quote is that it takes one step back and points out that the FIRST helpful thing that failure has to offer us is the sometimes jarring confrontation of whether we even want to dust ourselves off and try again.

Failure presents us with a “worst-case scenario” of sorts so that we can honestly ask ourselves: Is the joy of making worth the pain of failure?

And if the answer is YES, well then we have a pretty strong clue as to the kind of work we feel called to do.

And if the answer is NO, well then we have a pretty strong clue as the kind of work we feel isn't worth it to pursue. 

In other words, failure is the most powerful and valuable kind of creativity litmus test there is.

In the spirit of that context, I want to share with you a failure of mine.

Last year, when I was just a few months into building Made Vibrant, I could feel this idea for a book brewing in my mind. I was starting to experience the true joy that comes with unfolding a business based on my intuition, but I was a bit frustrated with the lack of practical advice on how others could tap into their own inner voice.

That’s when the idea for Connecting With Your Core hit me. I wanted to share my personal journey to authenticity and provide practical, actionable steps for people to find their own core values and apply them to their lives.

So, I put my head down and I worked on this book for weeks. At the time, my design client inquiries had dried up a bit, I wasn’t making much money, and so financially it was definitely a gamble to shift my focus away from finding clients and into bring this e-book to life.

Finally, I launched it on June 24, 2014, and do you know what happened?

This happened:


17 people purchased the book for a total of $392 made.

Financially speaking, my first e-product was a failure. It cost me more money in time and missed clients than the revenue it brought in. BY FAR.

But, do I regret writing it for one second? Did it disappoint me so badly that I said I’m never going to write another book again, I’m never going to sell another product again?

Heck no. Why?

Because that was a book I HAD to write.

It called to me like a nagging whisper deep in my core and it would have been a shame to let it waste away still buried inside. It’s still one of the things I’m most proud of that I’ve ever created, so much so that I spent even more time re-vamping it and hand-illustrating it for the latest shop launch. 

(I’d also like to point out that my next e-product after that book was my lettering e-course that has brought me over $45,000 to date. Just a reminder that you never know what's waiting for you on the other side of failure.)

The “failure” of my first product asked me that all important question: do you still want to keep doing this?

The fact that my answer was a resounding yes told me that I create things and I teach and I express myself first and foremost for the deep joy that it brings me.

And that’s why I hope you create to. Because you have to. Because even the possibility of failure can’t deter you from bringing your ideas to life.

There are so many more of those stories that I could tell you about. Like the time I tried selling prints of my lettering work and just ONE person purchased. (Spoiler alert: I have not stopped creating art.)

The point is, I believe it would be a great gift to the world if we were all doing the kind of work that would continue to call to us whether we found ourselves in the pit of failure or not.

So my challenge to you this week is just that:

What is one thing you would feel compelled to do even if you knew you were going to fail? Even if you knew it wouldn’t bring you money or sales or success, what would you need to go on creating?

Now what’s one promise you can make to yourself in order to do more of THAT.

On Wednesday I’m flying to Brookings, South Dakota because Jason and I have each been invited to present a TEDx talk. I’ve been practicing and obsessing over whether it will be just right, if it will be TEDx-worthy, but just now as I type this I realized something:

Whether I do it “right” or not doesn’t really matter. Because even if I were to fail, even if not a single person in that theatre felt moved or touched, it’s okay. I will have shared the story that I feel I must share, and I will be happy that I got a chance to dance with my own inner muse on that stage.

So, this week, I want you to remember this:

Failure is a gift. It's how you know you can go on creating from a place of joy and not a place of recognition.

Failure is a gift. It’s how you know you can go on creating from a place of joy and not a place of recognition.

View it as a tool to get you closer to the work that will light you up to your core. 

Thanks as always for reading, and I'm wishing you a fantastic week!