Tag Archives: failure

Coping with Failure

Fire

Last night, I received my royalty statement for the third quarter for the last book I published in 2015. After viewing the sales and returns, the release of the reserve funds, and the final payment, an avalanche of emotion overwhelmed me.

I am a failure.

Not only can I not support myself as a writer, but I cannot earn enough to call myself a professional either. I am a hobbyist, as a co-worker at my day job called me.

A hobbyist.

To me, that is synonymous with failure.

After all, I devoted 30 years to writing, starting out with the first poem I published for $5.00 to the first article I wrote for $35.00 to the first book excerpt I sold for $2,000.00. But if I cannot pay my mortgage and put my child through college, I cannot call myself a professional writer.

That wave of emotion I felt consumed me for a couple of hours. I sat, editing chapter 28 of my book, a manuscript that is incomplete and hardly worth the paper it is printed on, when I realized sadly my status as a writer has nothing to do with time or talent. . .just sales and net income. Fans will go out of their way to pay for a copy of my work, and new readers still email me to say how much they enjoyed my writing and ask when the next book will come out.

I am, theoretically, a success since I am good at what I do and there is a market for it.

But, technically, if you define success as whether or not you can support yourself financially with your talent or your craft, then I am a failure.

To me, I am a failure because others call me a hobbyist. If I was a stay-at-home author, then others might not place the same label on me. But they have, and it hurts.

It hurts as much as the other labels I wanted and failed to achieve: wife and friend. I am no longer a man’s wife and am currently devoted to a man who has professed his desire to never remarry, which, therefore, eliminates the possibility that I might have an opportunity to reclaim that title and make things work the second time around, if I choose to stay with him. I have also lost the majority of my friends during my divorce and have yet to find replacements, which makes life rather lonely.

I could list other things I have failed at, but what would the point be?

Everyone has failed at one time or another. The important factor is how to move on beyond it and find the motivation and desire to continue to pursue something else, regardless of the consequences.

Most endeavors do not contain any guarantees of success or failure. They are born of hope and pursued with faith. The outcome is independent of the process.

It remains to be seen whether or not I accept the label of hobbyist and resign myself to my small corner of literary life complete with the knowledge I will always need a patron of the arts to support me, even if that patron is myself. All I know right now in this moment is I have to create because it is who I am as a person, whether that creativity takes shape as a book or a painting. To know who I am, regardless of the labels others choose to give me, is enough to sustain the battle wounds and continue with the journey. I am who I am, and no failure can change that.

Surprises

Sometimes success happens long after you’ve given up hope for a happy ending.

Let me explain.

Years ago I visited a retired executive to go over my business plan. I wanted to expand my art business through manufacturing and licensing, but the retired executive believed I could never accomplish my goals because I lacked the time.

“You need 80 hours a week to do what you want to do,” he said. “Anything less is certain failure.”

That experience dampened my exuberance. Instead of walking away with a strategy to transform my business, I was advised to give up.

I didn’t follow the advice, but I did scale back my dream. I stopped pursuing manufacturers for a contract and settled for keeping production in-house. I stopped courting companies to license my artwork for personal checks, calendars, books, and clip art and settled for producing limited edition prints instead. I stopped trying to expand my market to art galleries in New York and settled with art galleries in San Francisco.

This week I received a call from an art gallery owner I hadn’t heard from in a long time. “Are you still at the same address?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said. “Why?”

My largest and most expensive painting had sold. The art gallery owner was calling to confirm where to send the check.

After the initial shock wore off, a warm glow of joy and satisfaction overcame me.

I sold a piece of artwork I had mentally written off.

I had given up just like the retired executive had advised.

And I was wrong.

I started wondering what would have happened if I had not listened to that retired executive and had continued to pursue my big dream.

Who’s keeping you from pursuing yours?


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Move Beyond Despair

Rain in Australian Rainforest Cairns, Australia

“Action is the antidote to despair.”
–Joan Baez

Rejection is an inevitable part of the publishing business. Not every literary agent, editor, or publishing house is going to share your vision for your story. Even those who want to shepherd you may find they cannot connect with your story in a way that will bring it to its fullest potential. They may lack the same passion as you do for your project and decide to pass.

After facing several rounds of rejection, you may start to doubt your story and yourself as a writer. When the clouds of “no’s” start piling up in your sky, it’s only natural to expect a little despondent rain. Just remember: do not get soaked.

My favorite artist is Vincent Van Gogh. I’ve traveled to see his original paintings, read all his letters to his brother, Theo, and studied about his art and life. My fascination is measured equally with repulsion: no matter how much I admire his artwork and his passion for God and the common people, it does not overshadow the fact that Van Gogh was basically a failure, living off his brother’s charity, selling only one painting during his lifetime, and ending his own life with his last words being, “This sadness will last forever.”

When I first became acquainted with Van Gogh, I thought I could outsmart the darkness by denying I was an artist and embracing a practical, mathematical, and scientific way of life. That failure led me back to where I began: as a child fascinated equally by both the light and the darkness, success and failure, hope and despair.

Over the years, I’ve learned the duality exists as two sides of the coin. You cannot have acceptance without rejection. You cannot have success without failure. You cannot have joy without despair. The key, however, is to find a balance.

When the rainfall of rejection starts pounding on the rooftop of my thoughts, I take action. I resist the impulse to let the sadness tug me deep into the undertow of negative thoughts that can easily spiral out of control and sink me deep into desolation. I engage in activities that bring hope, light, and joy into my life, whether that be creating something new, spending time with loved ones, or reading a good book.

Not every creative act finds a home. Not every invention is patented and sold. Not every cure for every disease is discovered. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to create, invent or cure. We do not let despair paralyze us with inaction. We take a break to gather strength, recalibrate our instruments, and step forward toward hope.

The rainfall of rejection eventually dissipates like any other storm. The secret is to engage in pleasurable activities and indulge in positive thoughts to prevent from drowning in misery, for no sadness will last forever.



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