The F-Word: Mara's Final Thoughts
Well, where to even begin? It’s been a hell of a year. When Lucy and I first sat down last summer to talk about what this series could look like, we quickly agreed that failure could be a fascinating foundation for us to build the series around. From the jump off, I was adamant about letting the nature of the conversations guide the direction of the series, not wanting to put too many constraints around it until I knew who I’d be speaking with and where the chats would go. That meant that I wasn’t sure what we’d be bringing into the world, just that I knew it was going to be pretty damn powerful. As a bit of a control freak, it was out of my comfort zone in the best way. I was staring into the unknown, with a rough idea of what the series would look like and a stronger idea of how I wanted this series to make people feel, how I wanted it to make me feel. It’s always been important for me to break down the stigma that failure has in our society, especially for the entrepreneurs of the world. Failure is a sign that you’re pushing yourself to grow and opening yourself up to stumbling and falling down face first. All too often, fear of failure keeps us from really trying. And what a damn shame that is.
Now, as we near the end of this grand year-long experiment, I have so much to reflect on. Having conversations about failure and then editing them month over month has given me so much time to reflect on my own relationship with failure. There’s something quite magical about experiencing something through the eyes of others. My own definitions and feelings towards failure have definitely grown and evolved over the course of the year. I’ve considered my own answers to the questions I found myself frequently posing to those on the other side of the microphone. I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of hearing someone vulnerably share about how a failure shaped them or pushed them in a direction they might not otherwise have explored. And I’d like to think that through all of these conversations, I’ve become a more courageous person myself.
MY OWN CHILDHOOD FAILURES
You see, I’ve always struggled with the fear of experiencing a failure that cripples me. I know it’s kept me from taking chances and risks that might have led me in wonderful new directions. A particular memory that sticks out when I think about the failures that shaped me happened when I was an optimistic 16-year-old, desperate to pass my driver’s test so I could get out on the road solo. I’d aced my written test six months prior and had been killing it on my driving lessons. I felt 100% prepared for my test...which I promptly failed before I’d even made it out of the DMV parking lot. I clipped a curb circling around the back of the building on our way out of the lot and, instead of urging me towards the open road, my evaluator pointed me instead towards a parking spot not ten yards from where our test had begun. I managed to keep it together until we got home, only letting a few tears out while I sat silent, lost in my thoughts. We pulled into the garage and my mom went into the house. Instead of following her in, I flung myself into the backseat, curled up in the fetal position, and bawled. For probably like three hours. Yeah, it was rough. Never before or since has a failure devastated me as much as that one did.
I always find it interesting to reflect back on that incident. Why did it hit me so hard? Why did I let it affect me so deeply? To this day, I still don’t fully know. But I do know that fear of a repeat incident kept me from taking risks and putting myself in the position where I might fail. I played it safe, only taking on opportunities where I felt pretty sure that I’d succeed. I became addicted to the positive feedback loop, let myself get high on the praises of my accomplishments. I lived for the external validation, without realizing how little I knew about myself and what I wanted. I was living for others and their expectations.
And so now, many years later, I know I’ve done a lot of work to get out of that pit. But as always, I have room to grow.
MY THREE BIG TAKEAWAYS FROM RUNNING THE F-WORD
There are so many things I could say. Here are some of the many lessons I’ve learned through conducting, editing and releasing these conversations around failure into the world:
1. Your childhood experiences shape you, but don’t define you
I loved having conversations around how we learn failure as children and how those definitions grow and evolve as we become more sentient and critical of the world around us. It was so interesting to hear how each person differed. For some, it was school activities that shaped their definitions. For others, it was their parents or their natural competition with a sibling. It was also interesting to uncover how going through failures and growing older allows our definitions of failure to evolve. We become less attached to the external validation, the black and white rigidness of our definitions of failure/success.
2. Sometimes, looking in the mirror can be messy
Perhaps one of the most surprising takeaways from running the series was the occasional pushback I got from the subject of the interview when it was released. I intentionally chose to leave a lot of the raw, real elements of speech in the final published interviews. It became an incredibly important element of the series for me. Usually in written form, we have much more control over how we portray ourselves, vs. speaking off the cuff. We refine draft after draft until we have the perfectly crafted message before we send it off into the world. It’s therefore a bit jarring to see sentences that are virtually ripped straight from a mouth and onto the paper. Incomplete thoughts are left to hang in the air. The word “and” to begin a sentence. It definitely gives you pause. But it also aligns to our lives. It rips off the sheen the exists in the world of social media that we’re perfectly put together at all times.
3. If you risk failure, you might actually succeed...big time
This last point is the most personal. This past year of my life has cracked me open and propelled me into a hyper state of growth. I believe this interview series was no small part of that. Being reminded month after month about how much I admired the willingness of others to open themselves up to failure helped me push myself further. In January, I accepted a new job out of my comfort zone, as a technical writer in the cybersecurity space. When I agreed to the role, I knew basically nothing about cybersecurity beyond the words “hacker” and “phishing”. Safe to say, I had a long road ahead of me. I had to quickly get myself to a place where I could write with authority about a brand new industry, while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of relating to my new coworkers and boss. But I took on the challenge.
The first day at my new job was one of the hardest days of work I’ve ever had in my life. I felt like I was underwater. Every conversation around me and to me was so full of new words and acronyms that they might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I had a pit in my stomach that I’d made a huge mistake, wondering how I’d break the news to everyone who was so proud of me for taking on this opportunity that I couldn’t do it. Never in my life has my imposter syndrome been so off the charts.
That was in late January. Now, merely six months down the line, I’m farther than I ever would have imagined. It was a lot of patience and vulnerability, but it was so worth it in the end. I was recently promoted to Head of Culture & Communications, where I now oversee all external communications with the public and our customers, culture initiatives within our organization, and work with my coworkers to improve the ways we communicate with one another within the company every single day. I’ve learned so much not only about the world of cybersecurity but also about myself and the value I add to an organization. It’s been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life and, if I hadn’t had the courage to take the leap into an intimidating industry, I never would have experienced it.
SO NOW WE ASK YOU...WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON FAILURE?
I feel like this goes without saying, but this series has been deeply cathartic for me personally. It’s helped shape me as an interviewer, content creator, and human being. It’s also been immensely gratifying to hear from those of you who have reached out to share the ways in which these interviews resonated with you. I’m a firm believer that something magical happens when you put your whole heart into something. I’ve loved seeing the ways big and small that these conversations with failure have brought us all closer together.
Next month will be the final article in the series, with one final subject...you! We want to hear from you. How has your definition of failure changed? What impact has this series had on you? How would you answer some of the questions we’ve been posing to our interviewees? Share your thoughts with us in this simple google form here and we’ll round up your answers into one final community post. Get those thoughts in by August 17th to be considered.
We look forward to seeing what you have to say. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for being a part of this series. It’s been an absolute pleasure.