A Brief Meditation on Failure
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”
I’m part of a new era of freelance writers. In previous decades, success meant relentlessly pitching ideas to editors until someone said yes. Every element of that success hinged on someone else’s opinion of your work and on their decision to give you a shot. So, you could be a Philip Roth in waiting and never catch a break if you weren’t likable or the vision of your work wasn’t accessible.
Though I know this world well, I’ve launched my freelance writing career at a time when those access points have been broken down. The definition of writing success is evolving, and the gatekeepers aren’t totalitarian. While it’s still nice to get a foot in the door at a big magazine or paper, failing to do so doesn’t mean you’ll never make it.
Where my old school counterparts spent their days convincing editors to give them a shot, and then accepting or haggling whatever rate they were offered, my process is a bit more…automated. I work through Fiverr, a platform that various business owners and creatives use to find work or get work completed. I set my pricing, describe my services, and tout my experience. Then, I wait for people to buy or message me about buying. And I book work.
Instead of hunting down clients, I’m essentially advertising my services and waiting for them to find me. Somehow, this method has worked for me for over two years, and I’ve been able to steadily raise my prices to what’s considered “market rate”. 2018 has been my best year to date, but last week was one of my worst.
Last week, this whole automated thing didn’t quite work in my favor. It was the lowest earning week I’ve had in well over a year, many of the clients I messaged were unresponsive, and I was certain I would miss my financial goals for May. As a freelancer, I should understand that this is how the cookie crumbles sometimes. Some weeks are epic; some are not. And one period of downtime isn’t indicative of an emerging trend. A normal (freelance) person would’ve used the extra time to dig into those creative projects they’ve been putting off for weeks or months (trust me, I definitely have them). Or they would’ve spent time with family or friends. Or they would’ve binge watched that Netflix series that everyone else watched last year.
But I’m not normal. I went into full panic mode. I’m talking worst-case scenario planning. What if I miss my target this month? Will I be able to pay my bills? Will it always be this slow? How will I find new clients? The sky is falling! Ahhhhhhh!
I spiraled out of control and spent a good part of the week depressed. I doubted my ability to make my freelance career work, and it seemed all kinds of things started to go wrong. A nagging pain in my shoulder worsened. I was uninspired by the book I was reading. I started seeing my entire life through the lens of this momentary failure.
I think a lot of us experience this. We hit a roadblock, one that may not be massive or life-changing in any way, but it’s just large enough to make us doubt ourselves. And what begins as self-doubt in one area of our lives expands to other parts. The next thing you know, we think everything sucks, and we dig ourselves into a hole that’s difficult to climb out of.
I wish I had some easy motivational tool or anecdote to share about how I righted my ship. But I don’t. I got to the end of the work week, and I looked back at what I’d accomplished. It wasn’t much. I invested a lot of energy into beating myself up, into freaking out about the slow business week. In the process, I lost a lot of time and opportunity to create a plan to find new business, to work on projects that fed my soul, and to enjoy doing things and spending time with people that I love.
When I looked at my lack of personal and professional progress during that week, it sobered me up. I realized I could continue to wallow, or I could get my shit together. I chose the latter option. I salvaged what time I could to work on projects, contact old clients, and create a more productive game plan for the following week.
This week wasn’t perfect by any means, but I kicked it off with a more focused and optimistic mindset. And because of that, even when I’ve been thrown off by something unexpected, I’ve still kept going. (I’ve booked some big jobs, too.)
Failure rears its ugly head in many ways and at many different times. As a freelancer, failure is basically part of my job—bad ideas that people hate, articles that people don’t read, initiatives that I don’t stick to, posts that don’t perform. I fail dozens of times a day, and I’m sure you do, too. It’s not easy to embrace Confucius’ wisdom; getting back up a dozen times a day takes a hell of a lot of conviction.
But I have to remember—this is the journey. This is where the lessons are learned. This is where all the real, tough shit goes down, those things that will help me appreciate my successes in the end. So yeah, I’m not proud of myself for losing so much time to failure last week. But I’m proud of bouncing back and finding a way to move forward.
I’m a stronger person for having gone through that experience. And I’m sure I’ll keep failing. I just have to keep learning, too.