🍾Congrats for the trying.
I wish we celebrated the entering of and staying in the arena, more than any outcome.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I’d never heard these words by Edison until a friend and fellow founder sent me a frame emblazoned with the words, following the gut-wrenching decision to shut down Poppy.
The words pushed me back to my scientist roots - to see this colossal attempt as it ought to be - just the latest in my endeavors to find the thing that does work. That does make an outsize impact. That isn’t just incremental and commercial.
But shit. All this trying is painful. It wears at your self-confidence and your belief that your view of the world has any merit and place.
The thing I’ve realized is: I’m hardly special or unique. This is all of us. Since I shut down Poppy and wrote/talked about it, I’ve had dozens of people reach out about their stories of trial and “failure” and how they’ve felt they haven’t had a place to talk about it.
So each time, I say: “congrats for trying”.
Because that is the truest thing I can say. There is merit and honor and courage in wanting something new, leaping for it and working for it.
I don’t care if it’s grand and loud like starting a company or quieter like moving to a new city or learning a new skill. Going back to work after a long break or taking a new role that gives you the butterflies (both the excited and the scary).
I will always side with the person that stepped into the arena and tried.
Because the lesson, the courage and the celebration, lies in the leap.
Why then, do we glorify the false markers of “success”? The funding rounds. The exit announcements. The speaking engagements.
Perhaps exactly because we love our heroes and their uncommon stories.
Because that’s precisely what they are - fewer and further between. (By the way, we don’t do these individuals any favors either. When “success” does strike it, often feels hollow or wrapped in imposter syndrome simply because effort isn’t always tied to impact. What happened to land this success might not have been the hardest or the most worthy, and the path littered by the trials and failures looms shades the blinding brilliance of success.)
And we all know how fleeting success is. It just signs you up for more. Higher heights and higher falls.
For my money I’d rather celebrate the trying. All of it.
Dig into the stories, the contours, the grit.
But to do this, I think we need 3 things:
💪🏽 Create a culture of trying.
Whether it’s in our families, in our communities or on our teams at work, we need to start talking in terms of what are we going to try that feels new and scary. When we make it feel normal to try new things on the smallest of scales (learning a new sport, proposing a new project at work/school ..), we make it feel possible to try things on bigger scales (moving to a new country, starting a company…).
We need to focus more on the attempts in a long string of attempts. Counterintuitively, let’s make trying completely unremarkable. Something that is in the reach of anyone. Let’s get our kids, our teams, our friends trying new things (the things that make us feel uncomfortable) as a matter of course.
👯♀️ Create dedicated space to talk about the attempts. This is probably the most important one. The thing that happens when you try a lot of things is that most of them aren’t going to land. Hell, we all know that 9 of 10 startups fail so this should be a dominant part of startup culture. And yet. In the end, it’s pretty expected that all of us should have plenty of trying under our belts.
Of all the things I’ve tried that haven’t turned out the way I’d envisioned, Poppy was by far the most ambitious and the most public. I was surprised how beyond the expected pain of seeing the end of a thing, lived the pain of not having a space to talk about all the good. That after we say: "it is no more”, the world around us takes that to mean somehow: “it never existed” or, “that sounds painful and embarrassing and awkward, let’s avoid”.
It IS painful, I’ll grant that, but it’s only embarrassing and awkward because we haven’t normalized talking about it.
Here’s a sample script:
"Congrats on trying. This must be painful. If you want to talk about it - what did you learn? What did you most love about doing it? Would you do anything differently? What ideas did it spark for you next? What surprised you most that you didn’t realize when you set out?"
The amazing thing is - start with these questions and I’ll bet it’ll be so naturally fascinating that your curiosity will take over the script.
But it’s the talking about the attempts that takes the sting off the “failure”. That allows seeing it through the lens of just one stop on the journey of so much more. That instead of outcome, it’s out process.
🔁 Create a culture of trying again. In my mind, the only failure lies in not trying again. And I don’t mean, if you shut down a company that you have to start another company or attempt the exact same thing, again.
I mean taking some ember of learning, of insight, from the original endeavor and using it to spark the next one.
Whether it was writing a piece that was rejected and trying again and pitching even more publications or moving to a city that isn’t a great fit but not letting that deter you from trying another, this time armed with more insight.
And it doesn’t have to be immediately after, either. Often times deeply creative attempts that take a lot out of you, need time to “lie fallow” to build up your creative stores. But that also doesn’t mean just sitting around watching Netflix. It means pointing your energies elsewhere until you’re ready to come back. For me, that looked like spending 5 months learning how to code fullstack and getting back to cooking and traveling (I had a lot of fallow I needed to let lay).
The point is - there is such courage and learning and insight in the trying. Any trying. The only waste is not honoring that, shutting it in box and not taking it forward like the gift that it is.
We are a culture that say we celebrate bold attempts and failure. But on this side of my share of it, I don’t really see that.
Instead I think we like the narratives of infallible heroes that overcome ridiculous hurdles to achieve something equally unsustainable.
What if we changed the culture to celebrate the trying, no matter the outcome?
That’s something I could raise my glass to and say, “cheers”.