Failure–The Forge of Excellence

Today, we are going to talk a bit about failure. All writers who dare to dream seem to have this same fear–FAILURE. It can seem larger than life and everything fades away in the face of this looming beast. I want to let you in on a little secret. For many years I was the best, the Big Kahuna, the Big Gal on Campus. I was positively THE most successful person…at failing.

A little about me…

I was a high school drop out at the age of 15, then again at 16. I worked as a waitress, but was a really bad waitress. I lost my job and returned to school. I finally graduated high school at the age of 19. No one figured I would make much out of my life since it’s highly likely I graduated last in my class. I think by the time you get a GPA as low as mine was, they just start listing you alphabetically.

I came from a military family, so I decided to enlist in the Army…only I got sick in the middle of the physical and failed. Doc gave me a medical disqualification (DQ).


So, I dusted myself off and attended junior college. I figured I’d go to school and try the Navy. I come from a family of Squids, so that wasn’t so bad. I put in all my paperwork…then they found out about the Army. Sigh. Apparently a medical DQ lasted two years.

No Navy for me.

Back to the drawing board (school). I knew the medical DQ would run out, so I worked really hard and ended up winning a full military scholarship to become a doctor. I didn’t really want to become a doctor, but this was the best scholarship and I was broke ergo not picky. I transferred to T.C.U. and began pre-med. I swore in to the Air Force (yes, I made my rounds of all the branches) and pledged my life to serving my country as a future military doctor.

Two years in, I was a shining scholar with a 3.79 average. Then, in March of 1995, Fort Worth was hit with an ice storm and T.C.U. refused to cancel classes. On my way to class, I slipped and fell and hit my lower back on a concrete curb…and fractured it.

Bye, bye military. Bye-bye scholarship. Bye-bye medical school.

I returned to school a semester later. I had to use a cane for eight months as my back healed and there was no such thing as handicapped access to anything in those days. It seemed every class I had signed up for was on the third floor, too. But I did my best and took it one class at a time.

I didn’t want to be a doctor if the DoD wasn’t picking up the tab. Didn’t have the money. So I changed majors because I could no longer afford to be on a medical track. This was all well and good except that it set me back. Instead of being a junior, I was back to being a sophomore.

Felt a little like high school.

But, I had changed degrees and really loved political economy. I studied the Middle East and North Africa and felt I could make a difference. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to help with a business development project in Syria. I would live in the Yarmouk Camp (a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria) and help modernize a paper facility.

Well, that was the plan at least.

The day after graduation I hopped on a plane. I was full of hope, dreams and passion, and just knew I would make a difference. I would knock this project out of the park and it would look SO awesome on my grad school application (I was applying for a special doctorate program).

Yeah….um, no.

It was a great experience but pretty much a huge failure. No matter what we tried, we hit a wall of bureaucratic red tape and corruption. I came back to the States and gave up on grad school. The hallowed halls of academia were too far removed from reality and I realized it was no longer for me.

I went to work in software sales and then paper sales and was dismal at both. I was a hard worker, but it always seemed that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the competition was eating me alive. Thus, it was only a matter of time before my position—and me—would be eliminated.

I failed at high school, failed at the military, failed to become a doctor or a professor and now I was quite possibly THE worst salesperson on the planet.

…and I wouldn’t trade one minute of it.

My failures taught me far more than success ever did. Many of you reading this are terrified of failure. I want to let you in on a little secret–Failure is not the end. Failure is a teacher. It will guide you to who you should be. Too often we give failure too much power. We think it is the end, when in reality it is training us for a better future. What if I HAD been successful? What if I was now a military flight surgeon? I wouldn’t be doing what I love and I wouldn’t be here to help you guys, to let you know it isn’t as bad as you might think.

Failing in school taught me to keep pressing on, even when that meant being embarassed. It was humiliating being 19 in an English class full of 14 year-olds.

Failing at the military taught me that some doors shut for very good reasons. Sometimes our prayers are answered, it’s just the answer happens to be “no.”

Failing in Syria taught me discernment. I jumped into a project before I thought it out fully. I wouldn’t trade the experience for all the gold in the world, but the project was doomed from the start. I should have done more research and planned better.

Failing at sales taught me that trying to do everything myself was a formula for disaster. It taught me to form teams and that relationships are the most important possession we have. When I was in sales, I didn’t want to bother other people and I tried to do too much on my own. My failure was an inability to delegate and form a team I could depend upon.

I now understand that any success I enjoy is not because of ME, because I am anything special. It is because of opportunities, blessings and support granted me from other people.

Our success is only a culmination of a lot of team support. There are no self-made best-sellers.

We can’t do this alone.

Failure is scary, but failure is priceless to the person who can embrace it. Failure should be rewarded because it means we are taking a risk. People who never fail rarely do anything remarkable. Nothing great was ever created in the comfort zone. Sure there are people who seem to succeed at everything they do, but the Midas Touch is not the norm. I want to learn from great people who failed yet pressed on and succeeded despite setbacks. I want to learn about creating wealth from Donald Trump, not the latest lottery winner.

Many of you who read my blogs want to be successful writers. If I can give you any advice, it is to learn to embrace failure. When we are in the middle of the storm, it is hard to see the bigger picture. It is tough to see how these setbacks and disappointment might actually be shaping a more brilliant future than we can ever imagine.

When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a famous writer and teacher, but I was told that was a foolish dream. So I traded in that dream for more practical dreams—a military career, becoming a doctor, sales. And you know what? I thank God every day that I failed at everything I ever tried because eventually I failed so much I no longer feared it, and THAT is when success started coming my way.

I took bigger and bigger risks and was more willing to throw my heart and all my passions into something because I finally understood failure never meant the end…it just meant the beginning of something new and I would be stronger for it.

The strongest blades are forged in the hottest fires. Adversity is the fire that removes the impurities in our character. Failure is the forge that creates excellence. One of the strongest forms of steel in the world is Damascus steel. Damascus steel is fired, folded and hammered hundreds of times, and it is this fiery brutal birth that makes it so strong. What about you? Are you a failure, or are you on your way to being Damascus steel?

Fifteen years ago, I had the talent to do great things and reach great heights, but I didn’t have the character to stay there. Failure taught me to work hard, set goals and, above all, remain humble and value people. YOU guys are my most valuable possession. You guys are my team and my support and I cannot reach my dreams without your help. It is my honor and privilege to keep your company, to hear your voice and to learn from you. If I can offer anything in return, it is my support and lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of doing just about everything wrong.

Failure is our friend. When I get what I like to call a “God’s-eye point of view” and see the big picture, I am SO thankful I didn’t succeed in the military, medical school or even sales. Success would have robbed me of all of you. I remember the tears and the depression and the self-loathing I felt after each failure, but what if I had been given a look at my future? I would have danced for joy!

We all start out a hunk of metal, just like the Damascus steel blade. Adveristy and failure fire out the impurities and strengthen our character and resolve. Failure might sting now, but if you could see the bigger picture, I imagine you would dance for joy as well.

What are some challenges you guys have faced? What did you learn? Are you facing something now and feel as if you are losing your nerve? What lessons do you think you can take away?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

I am teaching TWO workshops at Write It Forward. Sign up HERE. There is a Becoming a Brand class for $20, but if you want to blog and you need my dedicated help to helping you find your own unique brand and develop a plan for blogging, then the $40 Blogging to Build a Brand will fit that need. In this class I will run you through exercises to help find and create a brand as unique as you and then tailor it to connect with your future fans.

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.


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  1. Question: I have a blog with 244 followers, 2 novellas out and more on the way. Do I take your blogging course or your becoming a brand course?

    1. The Blogging to Become a Brand will teach branding, too. The only real difference in the two classes is that in the $40 class I help each participant find her unique content, log-line and help you shape your individual brand. This takes a lot more time and work on my part, but you will leave the class with a platform tailored for YOU.

      1. awesome – thanks Kristen! Off to sign up. I’ve been taking what you have been saying and applying it but I need to reach that next level 🙂

  2. My sons need to see this post. They need to realize that failure IS an option and DOES happen and it’s not necessarily something to be scared of. Thank you so much…so much…for opening yourself to us.

    Love love love to you!!!

  3. I don’t know that I would call your “failures” failures, but perhaps serendipitous sidetracks. I do like the attitude here and it is one that many would do well to heed. If we don’t learn from our failures, we’re not listening in class and we’ve wasted time. There’s nothing wrong with failing if we see it as a door to new opportunity.

    Tossing It Out

  4. My gosh, this is inspiring! It took me eleven years and hundreds of rejections to sell my first (actually eleventh) book. All those years of yearning, anticipating the mail, knowing the next editor/agent/book/year would be IT, I plugged away, holding to the idea that I had something unique to say and that my work could only get better if I kept at it.

    Looks like what what you were meant to do has been strengthed by all you experienced before. Thanks for the glimpse into your world!

    1. Good for you, Caroline.. hanging in there. 🙂 That is so awesome.

  5. This is SO SO SO TRUE. SO true. If I had not failed to get into grad school, I would be on a PhD. track, JUST now getting my dissertation finished and another SIX YEARS behind on my writing dream. If God had not shut that door definitively (because with my grades and GRE scores I should have been a shoe in) I would have been on THE WRONG PATH.

    Here’s to Damascus.

  6. I was feeling pretty long and narrowish, but now I’m back to more of just a hunk of metal. Failure is crashing on my couch and eating all the food in my kitchen. I won’t whine about the details, but I just wanted to thank you for your blog. You always say something that gets me off and running again. The other day it was breaking my own blog into categories (which I’m still working on, but making progress) and today you’ve made me feel more hopeful and determined about my recent failure. So thank you for keeping me moving forward instead of sitting around like a blob. =)

  7. Couldn’t agree more, Kristen. I proudly announced to my big Silicon Valley boss one day, “I’ve never failed.” I thought he’d be so proud of his new Public Relations Director. Instead he was silent for a moment, looked me in the eyes and said, “Do you think that impresses me? All that means is that you’ve played it safe. You’ve never moved out of your comfort zone. You have no idea what your true boundaries are.” Then he shook his head and walked away.

    Now, that was not really true. I’d moved from upstate New York to California with no job/place to live/friends, and that took guts. But he was right. I went out immediately and failed at a whole bunch of things to see how it felt. Attempted new things in my business and personal life that I would never have considered previous to our chat: calling the technology editor of the New York Times (he didn’t like my angle); signing up for a 2K marathon (I didn’t make it to 1K…but with more training I eventually did complete a marathon); inviting a marketing guy I was crushing on over for dinner (he actually blushed before telling me he was in a committed relationship…yeah, right…before the month was out he was dating a new hire.)

    But the point is, fear of failure is the worst sabotage we can do to ourselves. Once I was no longer afraid to fail, I dreamed bigger, planned bigger, was bigger. I achieved success over and over and it felt great not only because I succeeded, but because I succeeded at something much bigger than I thought I could accomplish. So, go out and fail, kids. Every no gets you closer to yes.

  8. We do not fail by falling down. We fail by not getting back up. 🙂

  9. I’ve been thinking along these very lines myself lately. For starting authors its easy to look at life as one book. Write one book, sell one book, get rich off of one book. I know that’s how I started out.
    But that first book, whether you sell it or not, is just a stepping stone. Keep writing, keep pushing, and things WILL improve.

  10. I’m still scared of failure even now, but I’ve been there a couple of times. The first time was when I left London after an incident with my housemate (NOT going into details) – I had to walk away from my entire life and essentially run home crying to my parents. Not the most fun period of my life. The second time was when, due to the fact that I was a lot stronger in myself after the London thing, I went to Peru – all was well for about 18 months and then I ran out of money. And I mean, literally. I had £10 (about $16) and nothing coming in. The day I found that out, my bf dumped me (bless him – I actually found out about the money after he dumped me, the two incidents weren’t related).

    I was too embarrassed to call my parents and ask for money – the way I saw it, I’d got myself into this situation, now it was up to me to get myself out of it. So I got a job writing for the internet (employment tip: DON’T DO IT – it was the worst paid, most mind-numbingly boring job I have ever had) but it paid the bills. Well, it paid the rent. It didn’t cover food. The day I finally ran out of food a friend found out and took it upon himself to give me money at regular intervals until I got another job.

    The moral of the story: if you pull yourself together and slog on in the face of failure, the universe will reward you by sending someone to help you on your way. I didn’t curl up and die (the internet writing job actually required minimum 10hr, usually 12-14hr, workdays), but I would have been in serious trouble if my friend hadn’t started giving me money – as you say, a team is invaluable for success.

    1. I should probably add that the job I got after the internet writing was sales for a tour agency. I went from $200/month to over $1500/mth. Failure is just the universe’s way of finding out if you deserve good luck. It lets you earn those opportunities.

      1. And OUCH for your back. I feel your pain (probably not as badly as you had it, but I had a ruptured disk in my lower back late last year which I’m only now starting to recover from). Carrying on with your course through that kind of pain deserves sainthood – I couldn’t have done it.

  11. I guess I’ve never looked at my “failures” as failures. Just learning opportunities. That stint in New Jersey as a nanny when I was 18? Holy cow. Big learning curve. The attempt to sell Mary Kay? Heh. Oh, the list of things that didn’t quite work is lengthy, but I’ve honestly never considered them failures. Just something that didn’t QUITE go to plan. lol

    The one exemption would be love. I am a big fat failure at love. I’ve failed so bad at it, I guess I’m not afraid of failing at writing anymore. lol

  12. Thanks for this post, Kristen! It actually gives me a little perspective (something I am capable of having, just intermittently.) I have a certification test next month, and I am terrified of failing it. My inner monologue: “what will I do with my life and my career if I can’t pass this test? I don’t see a plan B…etc.” But I cannot see the big picture from where I’m standing right now, and I know that God’s plans for me are much better than anything I could dream up, even if I do fail the test. I just need to be reminded of that every so often. 🙂

    • Stacy on June 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm
    • Reply

    This is such a beautiful, inspiring post. I was an English star in high school, graduated toward the top of my class, and then went to Drake University. All I ever wanted to do was write, but I let a journalism prof talk me out of creative writing and into magazine journalism. Have referred the decision for the past fifteen years. I never liked reporting, was never fully into the major, and didn’t apply myself as I should have. I lacked the drive necessary for the big internships, and found myself working at a small newspaper after graduation. So much for the big time.journalism job that would make me rich.

    Eventually I ended up in advertising, working for Yellow Book. I did well and handled major revenue accounts, but at the end of the day felt terrible because my job consisted of calling people and asking for money. I’ve been a sahm for five years, and that’s the one decision I’ve never regretted. But I berate myself for wasting my education and making the wrong choices. Many times I feel like a failure because of the college debt I feel like I wasted.

    Only now am I finally doing what I love, and I’m slowly learning to accept the decisions I made and to learn from them. Every bad choice has given me the opportunity to figure out who I really am, and I’m grateful for that.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  13. Wow, that is something to think about. I know I am guilty of being a perfectionist. I don’t like doing the “wrong” thing. It could be I’m scared of it, I don’t know for sure right now. The question I have to ask myself now, is “Do I have the courage to try something, and fail?” Now, what do I need to fail at…

  14. And this is why you are so resilient and persistent and compassionate and successful (Side note: there was a sale on conjunctions today).

    I often tell my students and my 7yo twins that nearly every success is because of failure. Babies are the best teachers of this. Watch one learn to walk. They learn by falling down. Failing, really. But they keep getting up and trying again until, one day, they walk. And then even run. (Evidently there was a sale on analogies too).

  15. Thank you SO much, Kristen, for a phenomenal blog about adversity and failure. Every rejection letter, every bad critique, all of it can be taken two ways – negatively or positively. You’ve chosen the positive and turned it around and it worked for you. We, too, can do the same. Your example inspires me.

  16. Girl, you’re singing my song. I can’t believe how much we have in common. I’ve failed at everything I’ve tried. As you say, if I had succeeded at any of it, I wouldn’t be here reading your blog. I wouldn’t be learning to write fiction. I wouldn’t be…well, you’re smart enough to get the picture. You know what else? If I had succeeded at any of my endeavors, I don’t think I’d be as happy as I am right now. I don’t think I’d have found something as fulfilling as writing is.

    William B. Travis said, “I will never surrender nor retreat.” I won’t, either. I might spend some days crying, but I will get up to fight again. 😀

  17. I’m not afraid to fail. I’m afraid of coming in second. I know failure. We’ve hung out for too long now. I’m moving on. Your blog helps me.

    Thank you!

  18. Thank you for sharing your story. I needed to read this to give me the courage to do something that feels like failing, but really isn’t. That’s the tricky part sometimes.

    • shawn on June 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm
    • Reply

    And despite all that you still married me. WINNING! Lol

    1. AMEN to that :D. Actually it might be more accurate to say, “Despite all of that you still married ME” LOL.

        • shawn on June 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm
        • Reply

        I could, but I’m too self deprecating for that…

      1. You two are so cute!! Feeling the love… 😀

      2. My husband always says my bar was set so low, all he had to do was roll over it. But he’s my reward for all the other failures and crapola that came before. 🙂

        (THANK GOD!!)

  19. I absolutely love this post! I’m feeling the white hot heat from that refining fire as I write!

  20. I’m so glad you’re where you want to be, Kristen. After all you’ve persevered through, you deserve it!

    I want to share a quick story with you all: at a recent mystery fiction convention, I met Sue Grafton (mega-writer of the “Alphabet” mysteries), and she told us that the first THREE books she ever wrote were rejected; then books four, five and six were published, then books seven and eight were AGAIN rejected. And book NINE? A is for Alibi, which started her popular, long-running series and made her a by-word in the mystery lovers’ community. It took her eight previous books to get to the one that really began her career.

  21. But I thought I was the most successful person at failing! Okay, so you really sucked too. Good for you! Wonderful way to teach something so much bigger than writing technique. Your mindset is behind all the success you’re now having.

    After so much adversity we can eat rejection for breakfast. (I like mine with bananas.) As writers we often want to have the best-seller without any life experience to draw from. Readers are smart. They know when we know what we’re talking about. So glad you stuck with the dream, and you definitely know what you’re talking about Kristen.

    1. Clay,

      Snorted over “I like mind with bananas.”

  22. This is so timely as I’m taking baby steps towards self publishing and I’m so afraid of failing and I’m just not sure if it’s ready or if I’m ready, but fear and working through it is part of life.

    • Denise Wolf on June 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm
    • Reply

    Really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing your challenges. For so many of us, we would have quit. Your lessons learned are invaluable.

  23. Shameless Kristen promotion:
    She’s guest blogging on Writers In The Storm today –>

    Go, girl!

  24. This is so inspiring. I was like you as a child. I always loved to write and tell stories. People told me I was good at it, but know one ever encouraged me to do it for a career. Like you said, writing (and making money at it) was a foolish dream. I was told to choose a science or math field, be a doctor or lawyer. I’m finally at an age where I don’t care how many times I fail, as long as I’m doing what I love.

    1. That should be “no one”. der…

  25. Oh Boy, have I had failures! Having about 25 years more of life behind me than you, I’ve had so much more opportunity to fail and I took it! But I’m the eternal optimist and could never fully give up or think so badly of myself that I couldn’t go on. Way back in my 20’s, failure just meant I was no good at anything. As I matured, failure meant what I tried might not be for me. When I jumped back into single life 7 yrs ago, I really had to prove myself and I did. I worked and did well at my job because it required being personable, knowledge of my field and showing up. I was good at all of that. Then I began working on myself figuring out how not to be so shy, what works and doesn’t in relationships, how to deal with middle age and the possibility of being single forever. When I gained confidence in those areas, better things began happening. I was making more money, I met the man I wished i’d been with all my life(Been married 16 months now), and restarted my blog after a one yr hiatus. I love learning new things so i gobbled up everything I could find on blogging and marketing, and writing. In the case of writing, I’ve read so much about rejection and have learned so much from my own failures, I have no fear of failure now. There will always be something to learn. A wise person once said: “The person who thinks he knows everything, has the most to learn.” Thank you, Kristen, for this uplifting, encouraging post.

  26. Correction: I think I may have about 30+ years more behind me. Hope I have another 30 to accomplish all my goals!

  27. Inspirational. Thanks for opening yourself up like that. I love the topic of failure.

    A co-worker once said “fail often to succeed sooner.” Not only should we pick ourselves up after failing, we should embrace and manage failure. In short, try new things. If they don’t work, that’s OK.

    When starting a large project like writing a book, don’t be afraid to take risks early on. As you near completion, the trial and error period should be over and you will benefit from the experience/knowledge gained by earlier failures.

    I created a five-minute Ignite presentation called The Power Of Fail a couple years back that illustrates this point.

  28. Thank you for this post. Sometimes I think I’m the only failure in the world and why the hell am I wasting my time? Other times, I’m just a big fat bubble of helpless, clueless hope just asking for it, just begging for that sharp object. So thanks for this reminder that it’s not easy for anyone and you aren’t doing anyone any favors by pretending success came easy or success happened because you deserved it.
    A breath of fresh air. A dangling carrot. Thank you!

  29. What an amazing post! I had a sales manager once tell me early in my career that I would never be good at it, but I managed to eek out a long career in high tech sales selling everything from data networks to routers. I’m not technical, just personable. I will still get phone calls or emails from my customers even though I left the business two years ago. Sometimes, I think it all relates back to this sales manager who told me I would never be successful in proving her wrong. Truly.

  30. Great post. I think it can all be summed up in one of my favourite quotes …
    “I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making a few more.”
    Which can be added to another:
    “The man who never made a mistake never made anything.”

  31. Great post, Kristen… I am glad you weathered your storms and are here to help me and many others. I recently started a new blog about the 80’s that I am going to be launching soon. I took a lot of pages from both of your books and also your class from the Long Island Writers Group.

    I have two blogs already that get very few hits and I started re-reading class notes and your books and realized – I was all over the place!

    I am very passionate about the 80’s and feel this is a step in the right direction to eventually promote a book I am working on.

    Thanks again!


  32. What an amazing post, Kristen! So moving, and after my recent failure, something I really needed to hear. Thanks for speaking truth into my heart!

  33. This is divinely timed. I am in the midst of success with the possibility of greater success, all hampered by my fear of failure. But you know what? I’ll embrace whatever happens because I’ve done my best. I am no longer just a hunk of metal. 🙂

    Thank you for such an inspiring post, Kristen.

  34. Some years ago, I went overseas with big plans — I was going to work and live the expatriate life and find myself (you know the story…), then come back and settle down with my bf. Only that story didn’t work out because there were no jobs. I came home broke. It took me a long time to get over the failure of the story. (That’s not how it’s supposed to go!)

    BUT…the timing meant that when I came back to Canada, I landed in a new city at exactly the right time to get a nice solid government job, which has provided some much-needed stable income in my household as my bf (yes, the same bf) pursues his dreams and I pursue mine.

    Still working on finding the silver lining in my trunk novels, though… 🙂

  35. If anyone asks what my biggest fear is, it’s failure. Absolutely. But at some point, I realized that not trying was failing — far more than trying and stumbling a whole lot. I remind myself now that that the people who don’t make touchdowns aren’t the least successful; it’s the ones who never take the field. As for becoming a successful writer, I don’t look at book titles now and think, “Why me?” I think, “Why not me?”

  36. Looking back to my school years, I think I was ok with some failure. High grades meant I wasn’t doing enough, and I was happy with ok grades as long as I could experience more.
    Failure has only truly hurt when I’m absolutely sure that I haven’t failed. Maybe in some cases I’ve not, but others judge me a failure. That cuts deep. I experienced that in spades in my career, and in many cases, it caused me to reevaluate my life in significant, shattering ways. Things like ‘why is my career the primary part of my identity’ and ‘wait a second, who am I anyway,’ and ‘oh crap, when I reach the end of my life and look back, will I be content with what I’ve done?’

    IMHO, its good to talk about persistence when talking about failure. Getting back on that horse and all. I think it’s just fine to get back on another horse. Better than sitting on your but in the manure, at least.

  37. Don’t know that I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone enough, since I haven’t as many failures, but those I have are doozies. In fact, I failed as a minister and ended up dropping out of seminary. But that failure brought me back to my love of writing.

    Worked as a DTP/Pre-Pub Operator in a small printing business for about a year and a half, then was “let go” due to a change in the industry. I’m pretty sure my failures there (read: mistakes made during the pre-pub processes) led to the owners choosing to let me go and not the other two working in the same office. But that failure made me choose to get into writing full-time. The skills I learned there also made becoming an indie much more feasible.

    There’s something to be said for failing, then picking yourself up to move on. As my Dad says, nothing is ever wasted.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Kristen.

  38. Thanks so much for sharing your story Kristen, takes a great deal of courage to do so. Kudos.

    I’ve worked at several dozen jobs, been in and out of college, got a degree, found it was useless for anything I wanted to do, and finally ended in a field I dislike but that pays the bills.

    I’m glad I found you many months ago and appreciate all that you do for us, all that you have inspired me to strive for once again. That you helped me hold on to something I almost let go, but no longer, and that is thanks to you.

    May the muse always shine peace and brilliance on your path.

  39. I’ll never forget at school when it was meet the parents day and all the teachers would say that I was good at such and such other subject and I’d get to other subject and I’d get the same ‘oh Catherine’s good at other thing’. It even carried on through college with ‘enthusiastic’ on reports. We all know that’s what they put when they are forced to write something positive. I think by Uni they got more straight with me lol.

    Every job I’ve ever had I’ve known it wasn’t what I should be doing. Discovering you are a writer is the best feeling in the world and joining MyWANA’s gotta be a close second 🙂

  40. Thanks for sharing your story Kristen, not many could turn their failures into the success. I don’t think I have ever had a comfort zone in my life, just the moments before the next roller coaster ride begins. That momentum is what keeps pushing me forward, step after step. I know that writing is my passion and sharing my love of history and art fuels my creativity everyday.

  41. What an inspiring post, Kristen. You wouldn’t know it, but it seems our paths in life have been very similar. I failed in sports (career ending knee surgeries), I was pre-med (failed), and on and on it goes. Now, I’m trying to become a published author (failed at the traditional query process) and have decided to attempt self e-publishing. Scary stuff, putting my heart and soul on the line for all to judge. But I’m proud and excited to be where I am, and due to my past failures, I now have the courage and determination to make this work. Thanks for showing us we are not alone and that there is silver in the lining if we look for it hard enough.

  42. Great post.

    There’s nothing sillier than seeking “perfection” or “success” as a writer….both are constantly moving targets, so “failure” can mean not hitting a target that moved 10 feet to the left but you didn’t notice.

    I’ve written more than six unsold NF book proposals and been through six agents, which I guess one could call failures. I think I just learned how to write a better proposal through (unwanted!) practice and learned to discern what makes a terrific agent. Now with a new, second NF book that’s already outsold the guy who got the $700,000 advance, my “failure” to sell more looks a little different.

    It’s often a matter of perspective. I think like the NASA guys in Apollo 13: “Failure is not an option.”

  43. Thanks. I thought I was a failure for having a day job at a call site. Now other people say I (modestly) write great dialogue. It’s not me — it’s hearing all those other voices, other dialects, other life stories — in my headset.

  44. Thank you for an honest and uplifting post.

    Facing life now – a bit more enthused about enduring the bruising, bashing, crippling effects of writer’s REJECTION. A little more able to shut up that voice in your head that whispers…”you loser/failure/stop wasting your time with this writing crap”

    Shiny, priceless Damascus steel here i come.

  45. At my first hospital job, I made some mistakes (none life threatening, lol). Little by little my confidence shrank until I was almost too insecure to work and almost lost that first job. With no choice but to go up I fought my way to a first-level supervisor then quit to become a one-person dept elsewhere. A few years later my reports were being used as models. That eventually morphed into the belief that a publisher would buy my book (and one did 🙂 Now I’m working my way up to the confidence of earning at least a portion of my livelihood with words. Next? All of it.

  46. Kristen, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this with us all. I feel privileged to know your story. And I needed to hear this. I’m not moving fast enough with my writing ambitions, and it really feels like failure. Even though I can diagnose the problems (the key of which is my time-suck job in sales, *nod to your past), I also can’t even get an interview anywhere else. I constantly flip-flop between “Get me out!” and “Be patient!” Your post has brought tears to my eyes and made me remember every experience is a learning opportunity. I have this foreboding feeling in my stomach it’s going to take a long time, but I hope one day I can be as insightful, successful, and most of all as supportive as you are in the writing world.

    P.S. Is there like a fast track route to failure that makes the success come sooner? For instance, does the air force still have rules about vision loss? Does the Navy take 5’2″ sinkers?

  47. I don’t like to brag, but…I graduated high school at almost 21 years of age.

    I think I can outdo you on a few other things, as well, but ultimately, I failed at failing.

    Sadly, there were a few things that worked out in my life. For instance, I got my MA. I still don’t know how that happened. Took me fully 8 years, which is respectable enough, but not a record by a long shot (I had a teacher who took 35 years to get his degree – he was a role model to me, but I was unable to emulate him.)

    And, well, kindergarten was a cinch, really. So no, not everything went wrong. Such a pity, on an otherwise perfect resume.

  48. It is true that failure can make you strong, but only if you have the will and the wit to learn from your failures, and if your failures are not catastrophic enough to render you hopeless. It is inspiring to hear you talk about your failures and how you overcame them, and I am happy for you.

    However, the truth is that not everyone is like you. People are dissimilar, they have different levels of tolerance, smarts, and drive to succeed. There are many sad stories out there of persons that failed and never went anywhere, but these stories are seldom told. Too much failure can frustrate and stunt many individuals forever.

    So I don’t totally agree with you, failure is not always good. For every blade of Damascus steel produced there were a lot of pieces that got tossed along the way because they did not make the cut. Sometimes it makes sense to make things easier for yourself and for others.


    1. Then don’t try to become a writer because it is a guarantee for most people that you will face A LOT of failure. You are correct; not everyone has the mettle for this kind of emotionally vulnerable profession, and that’s why I write these posts. There are a lot of great writers who are facing failure and thinking that they are an anomaly, when actually failing is the norm. Sometimes, understanding that even most succcessful writers faced a ton of setbacks can put us in the right frame of mind to endure. Usually people who are destroyed by failure do not have a realistic perspective. It ain’t over ’til it’s over and many of them give up far too soon, beliving something in them is flawed and that others don’t experience the same problems. This type of person usually doesn’t make it past a few query rejections. They fail for lack of will rather than lack of talent Thanks for the comment.

  49. Ugh. I’ve been dealing with my own fear of failure lately. I can honestly say that at 34 years old, I’ve never really failed at anything… because I’ve never really tried anything out of my comfort zone. Ever. I applied for jobs that were easy to get, went to a college that I knew would accept me, etc…

    I’m heading to a writer’s conference next month… I’m scared to death. What if everyone is better than me? What if I realize that this thing I’ve been doing all these years – writing – isn’t what I’m supposed to do?

    I want so much more than this fear-laden existence. I feel like God has been saying to me, “Just get over this one little stumbling block.”

  50. This post is lovely.
    Your words, “When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a famous writer …. So I traded in that dream for more practical dreams” could have been written by me. After hiding from my fears for 21 years and basking in the foundry of God’s precious care, I’m now intentionally following my dream to be an author. One intentional task in my plan is to read your lessons and encouraging words. I appreciate you so very much.

    I’m going to send a link to my friends from my blog. I want as many people as possible to read this post. It will be light to the soul of anyone struggling with fear or loss of a dream.

  51. Beautiful post, Kristen. Thank you so much for sharing it. And my life is similar; everything I thought was a failure turned out to be for the best. 🙂

  52. To Kristy K.:

    “What if everyone is better than me? What if I realize that this thing I’ve been doing all these years – writing – isn’t what I’m supposed to do?”

    Oddly, it isn’t necessarily people of little talent who have these kinds of thoughts, and people of great talent who are doubt-free. It’s almost the contrary, I find.

    So, instead of being afraid you’ll think these things at the conference, take it as a given that you will. And then go on regardless.

    Gosh, I’m quite impressed with myself – because that really is good advice. Maybe I’ll take it, myself, some day.

  53. My biggest failure was always a need to please, so I functioned in that mode, and it cost me several years of fruitful writing.

    Awakening to my insecurity and its cost, I then set hard boundaries and dared everyone to cross ’em. However, that negative behavior, I also finally learned, just isn’t good for the most important work of a writer’s life, which as you say, Kristen, is teamwork, the invaluable rewards and challenges of pulling together with others.

    The lesson I learned and cherish to this day is how to give to others, how to be a remarkable team member, while remaining a good steward of my own value and self worth.

  54. This must be my most favorite post so far. I’ll put you in my list of valuable lessons writers have given me with ’embrace failure’. You know, I used to fear failure but now I know it’s a setup for greater things to come. I too failed at Sales. I was actually the WORST salesperson in the world. But what came of it –me being in the States and learning to be independent– was the perfect trade-off. I’ve read a lot of inspirational books and posts and letters, but I think the most valuable one was presented to me on that Sales seminar in Nashville, TN. The name was something like The Greatest Salesman in the World and it was filled with inspirational essays that we had to read every morning while we ate breakfast, which was the only time of day we didn’t work. So thanks for reminding me of those times and lessons. Now I understand why you are so awesome. You have failed more than many others I know, lol. But that’s a good thing, of course. ^_^

  55. Wow, what a truly inspiring story, Kristen. My mouth is still hanging open from reading about your experiences. Never in a million years would I have guessed you’d been through so many trials. Your words are so uplifting, and it takes guts to share this. Thank you for being so honest and offering hope to so many struggling people. I’ve definitely had plenty of meltdowns lately. Am at a crucial point in my life. I’ll reflect on your words of wisdom when things seem hopeless.

    Sorry to hear that you can’t have gluten. My oldest daughter has Celiac’s but now that she knows what she’s dealing with, she’s getting things under control. For many years, she was only 90 lbs. and even got down to 85. She had trouble getting pregnant until she was able to keep the gluten intake in check, and now she’s due in a couple months! But those darn monkeys never run out of wrenches to fling at us. She has gestational diabetes, so her food choices are even more limited! But she’s a trooper, just like you! And the diabetes will go away when the baby is born.

    I’m so glad I found out about you. Thanks again.

    Thanks again!

  56. What an awesome gift this post is. I have chased perfection for longer than I can remember. Once in grad school I got 57 points out of 60 on a project. I was humiliated! Yeah, really not the smartest response. So I went to the prof and asked what I did wrong. He said the project was perfect and that he never has awarded more than 55 points. It was weeks before I could stop looking for the missing 3 points.

    I would love to say that I a better now, but I’m getting there. If I’ve learned anything in my life it is that living my life is a process and the aim is to grow a little more human every day.

  57. I was having a really bad day today. And a very worrying weak due to this very reason – failure. Well, that and just graduated, no job, discouraging mother, etc. But you, your post, and your blog – I’ve only stumbled upon this place today – is a godsend. Thank you so much.

  58. Hmm… I noticed that failure is a matter of belief, liking what we’re doing, and hard work. I noticed that when I want to do things in my life and believe that I can do it, I don’t fail; I become a success. When I hated to do what I was doing and believe that I can’t do it, I fail big time. I failed my nursing classes because of it and slipped on my last days in college. This is my formula for success. Half of it is showing up and being always there. A tenth is following instructions. The rest is hard work and belief.

    1. A discouraging mother is a writer’s gold mine, kho…

      You must encourage her to be discouraging, therefore.

  59. Nice to know we share a mutual friend: Failure. You know what can cripple? Success at something you really don’t want to be doing – like selling real estate. You stay so busy at what you’re successful at that you don’t have time to do what brings you joy.

    I’m a published poet and an unpublished novelist. I may not be as successful financially at writing as I was at real estate, but I’m richer by far already.

  60. Beautifully done, Kristen. I appreciate how openly you walk us through your personal experience… Love this line: “failure is priceless to the person who can embrace it.” It captures an essential quality that I think is easy to overlook: the need to embrace and learn from a failure. I’ve found that failures both in my writing life and outside my writing life can inform my writing life. I do allow myself a little window of time to feel sorry for myself. And then I get that part of me to shut up so I can learn from the moment… Actually, I’m doing a whole online video/presentation series called “I’m a Failed Writer” about my crooked path as a writer 🙂 Thanks again for refreshingly honest post.

  61. Awesome, inspiring post! You are so my hero, Kristen!

    I’ve failed a lot too (some of it’s more failure in the eyes of others than in my own eyes). I grew up loving to tell stories but got the impression that writing was not a “real” career option. I was so excited when I won a writing scholarship for college and then disappointed when the scholarship was taken away because my declared major was biochemistry…apparantly I didn’t “eat, sleep, and breathe writing” and was therefore not a real writer. So, my love of writing began to wither. I slogged through the biochem major, not really loving all of it and not doing especially well in the grades department, changed to microbiology (entertaining thoughts of medical school or nursing) and added psychology (which I ended up loving but not enough to make a career of it). None of those career options excited me the way writing had, but it seemed like I couldn’t find my creative flow anymore. I married and planned to stay home once I had children (big fail in the eyes of some family members…compounded when we chose to homeschool). Then I came back to writing. However it turns out, I’m so glad I came back. And maybe, if I’d stuck with writing back then, I wouldn’t be here now. And I’m happy to be here! I feel blessed to meet all of you and I’m excited about the changes in publishing. And all the fails have built my character.

  62. This was a wonderfully inspirational post. You are so right about the fear of failure. It can stop us in our tracks.

    Personally, I struggle with it with this self-publishing project. I am willing to forge ahead anyway. I’m doing it for my sister Annie.

    You have a fascinating story.

    • Trish Loye Elliott on June 29, 2011 at 8:03 pm
    • Reply

    This post really resonated with me. I will try to ’embrace failure’. I’ve failed at quite a few things and mostly have just hid them from people and tried to pretend they didn’t matter so much to me. Now I will try to look for that open window, rather than at the closed door. Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are truly an inspiration.

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