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Why Failure is Essential

Updated: Feb 27

In 2014, I started my first business. The business was called The Many Sides and this website is named after it, not only because I am a thrifty business person and hate to waste a trademark and good domain name, but also because it means something to me. It represents the journey I have had to take as an entrepreneur and keeps me reminded that I have encountered failure, of many types, and am still here.

The Many Sides was originally a platform selling emerging indie designers from around the world and then, after a few years, I started on the path to designing and producing my own collections. My pride and joy, my first business, was born almost overnight, with little knowledge and zero experience.

For the next few years, I embarked on a journey of learning on the job about fashion and design, samples and toiles and line sheets, a whole new industry and culture, production timetables and critical paths, a year being structured around seasons and shows and showrooms, about agents and distributors, trends and Pantone, lead times and magazines!

The designing of my own collections, from where I was a few years back, not even knowing what I was meant for and with my true source of satisfaction eluding me, was when I finally, for the first time in my life, started to truly come into my own, because it was when I started nurturing my gifts and sharing them with the world.

For the first time in my life, I could express myself and my own crazy ideas and my way of seeing things through colour, visual ideas, print and shapes! And everything in my world started singing. I think that's how love feels. Well, that's how it is when you find your 'thing'.

Failure, however, has been my constant companion. And I am not saying that to have a pity party and say I have had no successes. On the contrary, launching any business is a success.

Every collection I was proud of, was a personal success. Every collection, wherein I realised the fullness of my vision from concept to fully realised creation, was a success. Every time I produced a beautiful graphic, an amazing shoot, picked just the right art direction or model was a success. And every time I met someone in this small, crazy world that got 'it' and me, was a success because it made me realise that other people out there were also on my crazy planet!

Most of all, though, every hour of working on something you love represents success to me and, even better than that, is inspiring someone else to do the same.

But the spectre of failure, when I recall those happy memories, is always there. There is no getting around that closing a business is a failure, in some respects, and that is what I had to do in 2018 when I could no longer justify the bottom line and no longer cared enough to dig myself out and fight another day.

I took off to Bali to heal and rest for two months when I realised that it was the beginning of the end, and in that time had conversations with many amazing entrepreneurs and people of all kinds that I would never have ordinarily crossed paths with, from UN humanitarians to NASA PhDs, and I came to realise, through methodical journalling and self-enquiry, that it was time to move on. The Many Sides Chapter 1 was done.

I had come to the end of the road and there was nothing more to do on that particular project. And so, we parted ways. I closed the bank account and company and said goodbye to my well-wisher's and supporters on Facebook. I was devastated. It had been a long time coming, I suppose, but looking back on it now, I appreciate the bravery of my decision to be humble about accepting defeat.

The legal part of things was probably the closest thing to divorce I have ever experienced because I really thought, when we started in a relationship, me and the business, that it would be for life. I was never so sure or committed about anything in my life and so the fact that I had actually failed came like a steam train. I just couldn't believe it. And there is nothing like that fresh signature on a legal document to really drive home that point and crystalise an ending.

I have heard that when people get divorced, they question themselves long after the papers are signed, whether they could have done anything differently, whether they could have been different, tried harder or how they got there from happier days. They find themselves thinking that maybe it was wrong to jump the gun and sign those papers but they also know in their gut, even in the midst of trying to bargain a different reality, that there is no going back, that it really is over, because it's drained of all future, of all life. And that is how I felt. The questions continued for months after I closed the business, as well as the doubts on whether I had done the right thing in giving up.

For months after, I thought these thoughts and, maybe similar to a divorce, I have now come to the conclusion that it's difficult to pinpoint a cause when you are so close to the event. It has taken years to now come to the understanding that the causes of any important ending are never simple. There is never one event that leads to the demise of most relationships. It's sometimes a series of internal and external events, a job loss, an illness, a death, a series of toxic fights, a slow roll downhill.

When you get divorced, for example, you didn't necessarily make a mistake when you said 'I do', you made the mistake of underestimating that life is hard and success is not assured, especially in something you have only ever done once. And so it was with me.

After closing my first business, I went back to law full time and enjoyed relative stability and peace. I took more time for myself and spent money more freely because I didn't have a dependent in the form of the business. I learned to drive and I told myself that I was not wasting skills because I enrolled in a fashion degree and was, therefore, 'keeping my hand in'.

The truth was, I was back fully in my comfort zone, and I was scared of starting another fashion brand. I said to someone that I would never start another fashion brand. In this time, I set up some other businesses and played around with them and none of them was ever launched because I just wasn't feeling it. I just couldn't go through it again. I had commitment phobia and all kinds of fears. I was unhealed and I don't care what anyone says, nothing stings like your first big failure.

So how did I get over the fear? Well, I took that time to heal and I went into my next venture with passion but also a sense of pragmatism. I analysed what made me fail and, yes, it turns out it was a series of many things. It was lots of small things combined and a few big things.

For example, one of the things I learned was that I failed, not necessarily because I had put all my eggs into one basket but, actually, because I didn't, and was always hedging my bets.

It's counterintuitive what failure teaches you and it's not always what you think.

The common thinking is that it's best not to have all your eggs in one basket, but the truth is, that kind of thinking is one of the reasons I let things slip away from me. That is why you can't always get lessons from commonly held beliefs or traditional wisdom. They do not always provide the full story.

The other thing I learned was that, until you truly value yourself and your dreams and goals, no one else will, and in doing that you need to stop spreading yourself so thin and commit to the thing that really makes you happy.

I also learned self-care and boundaries. We are humans, we have limits, we can't be all things to all people. I learned that, without an appropriate level of self-care and a level of self-protection, we are destined to fail.

I learned so many other lessons, which are a little more specific, but essential nevertheless. I learned these lessons, even when I thought I didn't, because now I have started another fashion brand, I know the general road map, so even though I still can't predict where it will lead, I do know I am not starting over. I am on a continuum from where I left off.

And that's the thing about failures and endings, they aren't really endings at all, because you don't start all over again the next time, even if it's a whole other business, career or relationship. You start where you left off ... plus the experience, rest and healing you gain after that ... and that puts you further along a new, more solid path to success than you ever were before.

So is failure painful? Yes! Is it expensive and inconvenient? Sometimes, horrifically, yes. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely, yes.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that failure is essential, and without failing we don't learn from experience, we only learn from others and books and teaching. While I would always rather learn from other people's mistakes than my own, your own mistakes and failures, just because they sting more, teach you longer-lasting lessons, ones that you will never forget.

An old boss of mine once said that hard-won knowledge is the knowledge that you actually retain. And that is absolutely true. Those kinds of lessons are embodied and breathed into your very core and become part of who you are.

And because failure, at some massively inopportune time in your life, is most probably inevitable at some juncture in life, becoming this new version of yourself, a version that's experienced failure, is an important part of the journey towards eventual success.

So those are my two cents on why failure is essential.

What do you think? Is failure important? What have you learned from your biggest failure? Comment below!

If you are interested in getting additional insight and support, I offer coaching and consultation services at the link below.

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