In this blog post I want to get real. If you read my past few posts you know I’ve made a major shift in the last year from business owner to full-time employee and that I was unhappy and felt held back by my business, Pressbound. But there is something I haven’t shared yet. So here it goes.
In 2014, my letterpress stationery business failed. Miserably. And I was stubbornly in denial about my business failure until recently. Because I was not willing to see the truth.
There are a lot of reasons why my business failed. Enough reasons I can write an entirely different blog post so I’ll save that for another time. The abbreviated version is that my business wasn’t profitable and there was no choice. I could no longer ignore that I needed to take action in order to pay the bills. There were only two choices I could make: move on or make major shifts within in my business. I chose to go back to work full-time. It was an opportunity that the universe handed to me on a silver platter, so I took it. But even still, I was not looking at my business as a failure when I went back into full-time employment.
Failure by definition (or the one on Wikipedia) “is the sate or condition of not meeting desirable or intended objectives, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.” Therefor, failure is not something we like to talk about publicly or even admit to ourselves. Nobody wants to look or feel anything less than successful. Certainly not for the world to see. Definitely not in a business in which you are selling creative work made entirely by yourself. It’s very personal especially if you can't separate your identity from your business/work. There are feelings of shame and rejection not felt on such high levels since middle school.
Last year my identity was still so entwined with Pressbound I could not see that my business failure didn’t mean I was a failure as a human being too. So I chose not to see it as a failure. I told myself and others that I was shifting gears, in my brother’s wedding, getting married myself, figuring things out. All excuses to avoid the truth: my business was a failure and I did not want to save it.
I can’t say when my mindset shifted entirely. Or the process of how I got here. But something Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her new book, Big Magic, gives things context:
“What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to the expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life."
My business, my project of 5 years, failed, but I did not. My life was forever transformed in so many positive ways during that time, which I would never give back. Here are just a few of them:
- I created something. Not just a business but a ton of work. An entire line of cohesive stationery products that many people enjoyed. A website (several times). Promotional products (endlessly). Custom work (when I could). A trade show booth. A craft fair display. I filled an entire studio to the brim with stuff I made.
- I 100% committed to something and gave it all I had for nearly 5 years of my life. But when I was ready to move on I did not let the feeling that I wasted time, money, or effort overcome my decision making.
- I learned and grew more than I could ever imagine both professionally and personally at a rapid pace. Then I applied what I learned in my full-time job, in teaching at Emerson, here on this website, in my relationships with friends and loved ones, even in my wedding planning! It spilled over into everything. I am a much stronger, grounded and practical person than I was when I started. And believe me I used to be hugely impractical.
- I appreciate things more. Money. Time. Family. Friends. These are all things I did not have enough of in my life when I was running my business. I also appreciate the hard work and dedication of other artists and makers like never before. Because I’ve been with you in the trenches. The life of an artist is not glamorous.
So, if you're struggling with the idea of failure because your business (or project) didn’t succeed or didn't live up to your expectations, let go of the sacred and think about how you grew and what you learned during that time. I’m certain that you'll find it was transformative for the better. And that's not a failure in my book.