The co-existence of success and failure

BY CARRIE LIAUW


Recently, a friend of mine embarked on her entrepreneur journey and she warned me fiercely not to tell anyone. Her insistence on keeping things under wraps “for now” made me reflect on my own journey, the crazy leap I took more than a year ago.

I too, was very close-mouthed about starting my business in event management and brand writing. In fact, I told nobody, because I was afraid, and justifiably so — I had jumped head in into the deep end of entrepreneurship not knowing what to do and where to go. I had some ideas, some experience, and some savings, but I also had no capital, no partners, and no resources.

I had myself, and that was it.

So in the beginning, I ran in circles around myself, worrying about extremely small things — should I change the colour of my logo? What do I put on the website? Where do I find new clients? Should I lower my rates for event planning? How much should I charge for writing a 400-word article? Should I help my friend write his company profile for free? Will that get me better references? What am I going to do if I don’t make money?

The question that kept coming to me was — what if I don’t succeed?

What was I thinking? Why did I leave my comfortable-paying corporate job? Why did I think I was capable enough to venture into entrepreneurship? Why didn’t I take my time to plan this move?

I started to panic.

I watched as my bank account depleted itself by the day; I avoided my friends when they asked me out; I woke up every day at noon and ate instant noodles while sending emails to people who did not reply. It was a stretch of long, long days that seemed to drag on. This went on for months. Days culminated into a ball of worry, panic, and false hope. Every time a potential client rejected me, I would doubt my worth and choices. Failure manifested itself in the form of shame, of fear, and of loneliness.

For months, I lived in that failure; I had become that failure.

And it showed — in the way I would meekly agree to appointments I didn’t want in the first place, in the way I avoided my family and friends when they asked questions (I even lied to a few friends that I was still in my cushy corporate job), and as much as, somewhere, in the back of my head, I knew this was temporary, I was worried it could be permanent.

Then, a client I had worked with before sent me a text, asking if I’m still in the business. She had an upcoming event that I could probably help with. The thing was, I could prepare a proposal but I was up against big event management companies, companies who had longer and stronger track records than I did. In other words, I was going to be fighting giants.

I thought, when we prepare for a battle with giants, we must be ready to die.

I gave it my all. It was all or nothing. The only motivation, I kept reminding myself, was that the client remembered me; she sought me out. This must mean I had done something right, right? From the recesses of dark failure came a glint of light.

Slowly, I saw failure dim. I had yet to actually accomplish any real achievement but I was not failing anymore.

The long hours of research, planning, and preparation paid off. I got the contract and the event went smoothly, ending with a heartfelt handshake from one of the high-level management. It was an achievement, a moment worth remembering, and dare I say, a small success.

From that day, things got brighter and I was doing things better. I started to read more, share more, and talk more. In the next few months, I learned from the stories of entrepreneurs before me, gained new ideas from like-minded friends who were also striving to make something for themselves, and got inspired by even the tiniest moments.

I stopped hiding at home and lying to my friends. I started eating right, keeping track of my expenses, and paying attention to people around me. I learned to see that failure was not because I was not making money or doing well, it was a state of mind. I allowed myself to think that I was not worthy of entrepreneurship, that I was not as good as my competitors, that I was only a small fish in a big sea.

Failure was all those things and once I stopped indulging in those thoughts, channeled my energy to positive stories, inspiring people, and acknowledged that yes, I am a small fish in a big sea but I’m still a fish and I can swim, I was slowly succeeding.

Every book I read and learned something from — that was a success. Every person I met who wanted to know more about what I did — that was a success. Every new idea, possibility or word of encouragement — these were all successes.

Successes, they do not stay for long, I can tell you that. Over the past year or so, business has fluctuated countless times. There were times I was doing well and times I was not. I may not be able to count my successes tangibly, but I no longer feel like a complete failure.

The truth is, I’ve learned to embrace both failure and success as parts of this journey; the two may be opposites but they can also co-exist, and they must. The moment we accept that neither can exist without the other, we have found a balance.

This is the same advice I’m now giving to the friend who is afraid people will laugh at her if she tells them her ideas and what she plans to do. She’s afraid that she may not succeed. The thing, she does not know how great her energy is, her daring spirit to try something new, and that both failure and success are but states of mind.

So, to the ones asking, “What if I fail?” I say, go ahead, because success awaits.


This piece was requested and submitted to THE VOIDIST, a new publication dedicated to technology, politics, sexuality, and person experiences.

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