I have a confession…
The closet in my office is full to the brim of greeting cards that I made, but have not yet sold. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and I’m reminded of it every time I need to pull out packing materials or grab a fresh pen. But I chose to leave the stationery industry to start this blog, so to me, it’s not so much of a failure, as it is a relic of my past career. No, the real failure that I see when I open that closet door, is what happens when I don’t believe in myself.
Let me take you back a few years to my little greeting card company Fat Bunny Press. I illustrated and letterpress printed cards, wedding invitations and stationery all by my little, old, self. I liked the cards that I made well enough, but after a few years of cultivating my taste, I realized that there was a discrepancy between the things I was making and the things I, myself, would buy. My cards were cute and quirky, with small little drawings and bright colors, but they didn’t actually reflect my personal preferences, which leaned towards muted colors and feminine themes. So, I decided to start over completely. Scratch my old cards and begin with a new style that was more in tune with who I was at the time.
I started making mood boards, sketching, brainstorming, and came up with many ideas for new products. But when I went to execute these brilliant new card ideas, I was unable to make decisions, struggled to declare when a design was finished, and ended up making a zillion teeny iterations to illustrations in order to make them just “perfect.” I would toil for hours on the design of card, twiddle with the lettering, or obsess about the colors. It was a lot of spinning and it left me really unhappy and insecure.
It is so difficult to say this, but it took me a year and a half to complete the designs of my new card line. When it was all said and done, I was proud of the work, but the process had left me feeling completely empty inside – all those insecurities and fears had leaped out of my head and into the stationery. Over the course of an intense month, I printed thousands of cards, spent countless hours in the print shop mixing inks, making plates, and using an antique letterpress machine late into the night. It was such hard work, and while the goal of finishing production kept me focused, I’m pretty sure my heart had already left greeting cards well behind.
Once I put the cards up for sale, I was so burnt out and down on the industry that I simply didn’t want to continue. It was then that I talked with my husband about doing something else. A little seed had been quietly growing in my gut and I wanted to give it oxygen. While I still sell all my cards online, and do occasional design work, I chose to move on and start She’s So Bright. It was a welcome change that has brought me SO much happiness and freedom, and I am rid of the indecision and insecurity that had plagued me for so many years in the stationery industry.
While some might say the business itself was the failure, I look at it and think that my failure came much earlier than that. I was unable to identify my strengths and weaknesses, I didn’t spend enough time reflecting on the direction I was taking, but most importantly I felt like a fish out of water in the design industry. It was a hard lesson, but ultimately led me to where I am now and to this blog!
Here are some of my tips that helped me overcome failure and turn it into something positive:
Be honest with yourself.
This is the most difficult part of overcoming failure, but easily the most important. Think about your strengths and weakness and how they contributed to your struggles. As I started to work on developing my design taste, I recognized that while I love using and buying stationery, I didn’t really love making it. Every day was a struggle and I was not as inspired as I needed to be to make great work. I was uncomfortable with sales, and rather than address that, I neglected the considerably more important aspect of a business. I also felt too limited by the medium, and felt restrained by expressing myself through greeting cards. I didn’t dream in stationery – I dreamt in stories, photographs, and characters. Had I known these things about myself earlier, I could have changed course much sooner! The more honest you are with yourself about your skills, the more you’re able to greater assess the risks you are taking. You’ll also be able to understand if you need help, partners, or more education so that you don’t make the same mistakes next time!
Give yourself time to heal.
It can be painful to look back on things that didn’t work out, and you wont get over it immediately. If you’ve put your heart and soul into something, it can be devastating to see it fail, so don’t expect to pick yourself back up right away. Accept what has happened and be kind to yourself as you rebuild and regain energy for your next challenge. Reach out to people who can support you and don’t shy away from a little bit of pampering – you deserve it!
Don’t look back.
There are always things we want to change from the past, but the best way to deal with failure is to learn from it and move on. Look forward to your next project, relationship, or career, and don’t spend any time thinking failure defines you in any way – it doesn’t. It makes you stronger!
Think of overcoming failure as an act of defiance.
Ever heard the expression get back on the horse? Well, as someone who has literally fallen off a horse, I can tell you that it is scary as all hell. But with a little encouragement and prodding, I got back on. Now, after years of challenges and failures, when I feel like something doesn’t go my way, I grit my teeth, pick myself up, and dig in to do it better, harder, or faster. Channel that frustration into strength and determination, rather than into discouragement.
Be thankful for what you’ve learned.
I had an INCREDIBLE experience working in the stationery industry. I learned how to draw and design, use programs like photoshop and illustrator, train my eye for color, run a small business, print using antique letterpress machines, and so much more. I enjoyed the intimacy and trust that it took to work with couples on their wedding invitations, and I was so happy to share my love of stationery with so many customers. I am so grateful for the skills I picked up, and it’s the reason I’m able to bring a level of quality to this blog.
Failure doesn’t define you.
Every person has failed in one way or another, and it’s the people who never try that are really failing. Don’t obsess over the fact that something didn’t go your way – there’s this illusive thing called luck that is often more powerful than any of our best intensions.
There is no simple definition for personal failure. We all measure ourselves differently, strive for a huge variety of goals, and aspire to do or become many things. What matters to each of us, individually, is how we measure up to that goal post we’ve set for ourselves. One person’s failure could very well be another’s success!
I’ve set my sights on new goals, and am excited to move my old greeting cards into another part of our apartment. Soon, my office closet will be a blog closet, and a source of inspiration and motivation for She’s So Bright. I’m exhilarated and looking forward to this next adventure, but I’m also preparing to stick out my chin at the next challenges that are sure to come my way!
“You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, how much more enjoyable it is to win. It’s inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it.” ~ A Good Year (a favorite film of mine!)
What have you learned from failure? Share your story and tips with me in the comments below! And if you’d like to see some of the greeting cards I mention in this post, click here to visit my Etsy shop, Fat Bunny Press!