On a more personal note …

Squam podcast upshot: Failure is good

I do a lot of interviews and don’t often mention them here, since that’s awkward and plus it gets a little redundant. But I did a very different sort of interview last week, and I’m almost reluctant to post it here for different reasons (!) but it was my conversation with Elizabeth Duvivier of Squam for her new Morning on the Dock podcast. If you’ve ever met Elizabeth, you know what a sweet and open soul she is (or “woo woo,” as she would say), and when she started asking me questions that have hard answers, rather than tossing off simpler versions, I went there. I haven’t listened to it, but I don’t recall that we really talked about knitting at all. Elizabeth is interested in where creativity comes from and how it gets fed, so she asked me a lot about our new house and life in Nashville, and also about my background and how it led me to where I am right now. I wound up getting into the long, sad history of my failed former business, and did a little hyperventilating along the way because it’s not something I really talk about — especially not on the record, for public intake. But I’m bringing it up because I don’t think I ever actually made my point about why I chose to be open about at it with her at that moment. That intended point being: Failure is good.

I didn’t understand it when I had a failing venture on my hands (wildly successful as an entity; total failure at paying for itself) and wish I had, because it would have made things less painful, I think. What any successful business person will tell you is that, while it might feel embarrassing, trying things and failing at them is a perfectly common part of the process. It seems self-evident: babies don’t just stand up and start walking. The only way to get there is to give it a try, fall down, try again, wobble a little before falling down, try again. I guess I’d never heard that famous Beckett quote — “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — or maybe I just didn’t realize it applied to this situation. It’s one thing when you’re trying out a new recipe or attempting to ski or whatever. But when you’ve said to the world “I’m starting a business,” and you’ve put money and time and ego into it in a very public way (and maybe even put other people’s money into it at some point), it’s totally brutal to have to admit defeat. Unless you get that it’s perfectly natural — that people way more brilliant than you have also failed, in much more epic ways. And then they failed better, and eventually they succeeded. There’s no disgrace in it, as long as you’re learning. I only wish I had come to understand that before sacrificing years of my life in trying not to accept that particular failure.

And I feel so strongly now about saying this publicly, in case it’s of use to anyone else, that I’m posting it on my knitting blog today! Whether it’s trying something new in knitting/sewing or attempting to start a business, please don’t let fear of failure hold you back. Failure is such an important part of life — I would even say it’s noble. If you aren’t failing at something, it means you’re not stretching yourself, not trying anything you haven’t already mastered. Life is hard, failure is hard, but there’s no substitute for the feeling of learning, and applying that learning on the next go, and getting better results. There’s no telling what you’re capable of, and only one way to find out.

So thanks to Elizabeth for the difficult conversation, and thanks to all of you who help make Fringe what it is — whether it’s an instance of me succeeding or just me failing better and not knowing it yet! Whatever it is, I’m thankful for it.

And there ends my motivational-speaker shtick for today!

IN SHOP NEWS: Lots of great stuff is back on the shelves this week: Twig & Horn Wool Soap, Little Seed Farm skin balms, wooden rulers, brass-and-steel scissors, Stowe Bag patterns, looms. AND the new issue of Taproot is in, with a great matching hat and mitts pattern by Bristol Ivy. Head on over to Fringe Supply Co. and have a poke around.

And please do something daring this weekend!

Photos are from my 2014 trip to Squam

45 thoughts on “On a more personal note …

  1. Karen:
    thank you for that reality check!!! I am doing something myself that I have failed three times already with the goal that this time I will succeed!!! I will keep this in mind as I move forward.
    Best to you!

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  2. Albert Einstein failed his university entrance exam. One failure does not mean a failed life. It’s nice to know you are human too and look how far you’ve come. When Mason Dixon knitting asked readers to list influential people in knitting, I listed you. In my world, you are a big success.

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  3. Actually, it is very comforting to read this. I also attempted a business venture last year and totally broke down before it really started. I kept pushing myself even though I knew deep down it wasn’t right for me. I felt ashamed and depressed for several months after that, until I realized that at least I tried something and learned a lot about myself in the process. Which led to me trying something different that suits me much better, and that I might not have even considered before this failure. Thank your for sharing this.

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  4. reminds me of the Pixar movie, “Inside Out”, all of the emotions, fear, joy, etc. are characters in the story… in the end, we learn that sadness and happiness (failure and success) need each other! Such a great movie – worthy of viewing if you have the time! Thanks for sharing the story, Karen – fuels the fire and inspires me… the alternative to failing or succeeding is NOT trying, a terrible path to choose in my opinion! ONWARD!!!

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  5. Open and honest post that will help many, who are suffering in their own thoughts and actions, shift their perspective. I’m taping the Beckett quote to the wall. Thanks for all you do Kaen and especially for being uplifting about our down times.

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  6. KT you are so brave! you are an inspiration for creativity and business and social grace. you learned a lot in that venture and now look at how many people you touch each day!

    also, I would read/listen to all of your interviews

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  7. Sorry you’ve struggled with this, and I imagine it would be hard not to in such a personal endeavor. You may know this, but it bears mentioning: in the tech world of rapid and plentiful startups, failing seems to be a badge of honor for the gurus. And it is so much part of the scientific process that STEM education has embraced the concept too. I much prefer STEAM (with ART in there), and in fact, as you so well expressed, art and creativity share that aspect of the scientific process — trial and error, risk taking, noticing and adjusting… it helps us develop resilience, which is a valuable trait indeed. There’s a Ben Franklin quote, which I don’t have verbatim, but in which he says about the 10,000 “failures” on the way to inventing the lightbulb, “I haven’t failed; I learned 10,000 ways it wouldn’t work.”

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  8. Nice to put a voice with the face! Echoing the others, at age 60 I realize my failures pushed me to later successes. Your impeccable attention to detail is a strength I strive for!

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  9. Thanks, Karen, for another insightful and encouraging post. A couple of days ago, my husband and I were (once again) talking about being trapped in the notion that we need to be “turning out sell-able art” for our gallery, perfect every time and so we’re paralyzed by fear of failure. Afraid we’ll fail at it this time and so fail our business, fail each other. Thank goodness in talking about it, the fear dissipates. Saying it out loud makes it sound so silly and rigid (shouldn’t we know better by now?!) We brainstormed ideas for having fun making art – and even throwing it away, if it “fails.” A much needed conversation.
    PS From a comment on this blog I “got” that if I don’t like a completed knitting project, I could rip it out! That notion never registered in my brain. I’m allowed to do that! I ripped out two hats I didn’t like and was hugely relieved.

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  10. Thank you for starting my day with your inspiring insight. I applaud your honesty and the courage it takes to share something so personal.

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  11. I just listened to the podcast and am so grateful that you spoke frankly and candidly about your successes, failures, and your overall journey. I think the internet age we are in can be a double-edged sword sometimes. Inspiration is easy to come by but can simultaneously seem un-attainable. It can be tough to remember that there are real people with real triumphs, emotions, and disappointments on the other side of the screen. I wholeheartedly agree with your idea of not giving into fear. Fear can still be present in what we do (and can be healthy sometimes) but shouldn’t prevent us from jumping in headfirst and seeing what happens. Thanks so much for sharing such thoughtful and honest thoughts.

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  12. Hey Karen,
    I listened to the whole interview and really enjoyed it. On so many levels. Elizabeth is a terrific interviewer, for one. And you were so forthcoming with all the things that got you to the point you are now at. That was hugely inspiring.

    You also talked about how crafting is often looked down upon. As a passionate knitter and crocheter, but one whose day job is painting (meaning how I actually make some money), I find this especially irksome. I decided a while back that I wanted to change my painting in a very big way…to incorporate into it, the things I love about the fiber arts. It had to do with process and working incrementally, and the result was a whole different kind of end product. Though it meant a solo show that did not do as well, I am happier for it. But there was real disappointment in how little encouragement I got when I tried to pay tribute to crafting. I even had one dear friend (a very accomplished artist) make fun of my artists statement in which I mentioned my grandmother and her knitting and crocheting. It did not even sway him that Chuck Close was similarly inspired by his own grandmother. He thought the crafting was somehow lesser stuff, and that the image of me knitting, should not be conjured in my artist statement. Well, after a year of thinking about it, and getting over the sting of a show that was not understood, I have decided to keep going on that track. Following you, and a couple of other crafters who blog (hello MD!) , and getting on IG (thank you for that too), has provided me with a community of people who not only get what I am trying to do, but inspire me in how they pull it off in their own lives and work. I am so very appreciative. XOX

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  13. Would love to listen to the podcast, how do we do it?

    Karen, I have a funny little anecdote to relate to you. A member of my knitting group (knitting about 2 years) passed by you at Rhinebeck and you murmured “Nice Bellows” as you passed. She suddenly realized it was YOU and said she was momentarily stunned to be in the presence of such greatness! I’d feel the same way. We all think you are amazing and I for one am so grateful of all the times you’ve graciously gotten back to me with the answer to probably a very basic question. You are a SUCCESS and I pray that your business is profitable. I love your products and I love your blog.Thanks for ALL you do.

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  14. Yes! I’m so glad that you said this out loud. I think our culture in general is too afraid to fail right now, unwilling to accept that trying some things which don’t work out is an unavoidable part of figuring out how to do anything, and do it well.
    I actually just wrote about this on my blog too, on the smaller scale of a failed project. It can still be demoralizing, but ultimately what matters is what we learn, and where we take it. The main thing I have learned by trying a few ways to make money that have not exactly worked is: failure is really not that bad or scary!

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  15. A long time ago I read somewhere “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning anything” and it has been a mantra for me ever since. People think I’m brave because I’ll try just about anything but I tell them I”m just learning. Mostly I’m learning about myself. Thanks. I really love your blog, I look forward to reading it every day.

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  16. In my mid-twenties I got involved (and stayed for too long) with a transnational biotech start-up. The co-founders got into it for the right reasons, our primary funders were this new government agency in China that was established for the right reasons and run by some of the savviest, canniest, most hard working, ass-kicking folk I’ve ever met and most of our team, which I helped assemble over the years, were committed to making this venture work. So it’s failure was sad for everyone.

    All along, though, I’ve never forgotten a quote by one of my bosses, said maybe the first month I started working for him: “Failure is always an option.” You give your damnedest and you try your smartest, but you never forget that the world is not moved by sheer will alone, but you act anyway as if it were.

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  17. Thanks for this post, well said! I can relate to your sentiments and they remind me of when my husband and I quit our jobs and moved with only 4 suitcases from Washington, DC to Amsterdam. I only recently started knitting and it has taught me so much about failures–learning to let go and rip out a seam or unravel what has been knit. These little failures really become metaphors for larger ones and has really helped me better understand difficult life situations and decisions as well.

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  18. What a great topic to talk about! I am definitely going to listen to that this weekend. Failure was not something easy for me to accept, but I know that it is a part of the way.

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  19. Boy, oh boy, is the notion of success and failure on my mind these days, Karen. Just listened to your interview and really feel grateful to hear your thoughts on so many subjects. We’re lucky you’re here in Nashville, however dim the sunlight can be!

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  20. Your blog inspires and encourages me and I am so grateful for your courage and passion. When making a decision about design and colours I often ask myself ‘what would Karen do?’ Your kind of ‘cool’ can’t be bought but thank you for so generously sharing it with us all anyway.

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  21. I listened to the podcast today – it’s such an interesting story. I’ve come from a similar background (trained in graphics, ended up on the internet/founded an online community/worked in successful startup (not mine!) don’t really talk about craft to most people I know) but actually I still work in tech.

    I can tell you’ve escaped that world, because if you hadn’t, you’d’ve read some of the *billion* blog posts about failing or failing better/faster/harder – almost exclusively written by white men. And I hate to do the ‘oh white men! etc’ thing, but the way you tell your story is so different, and so much more humble.

    But it doesn’t sound like you did fail. Ok, if the point was to get rich well, that’s one thing, but you founded something that bought people together and did everything it was supposed to do. Maybe the world changed a bit around you, but, well, these things happen. And it’s super easy for me to say – not having been the one that had to wind up the business, but it sounds to me like you achieved a lot, and that you should be super proud of that.

    I found your story really inspiring. I also love that you’re brave enough to hop about a bit and do what feels right – but sensible enough to look before you leap. If we lived in the same country I’d ask you to be my mentor. (Not that it sound like you have the time – so maybe a lucky escape for you :)

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  22. You’ve no idea how perfectly timed this post is for what is brewing in my mind. Thank you for speaking the truth, and in that, nudging me toward what I need to do.

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  23. I loved the interview. Your blog is my first stop in the morning, and it was lovely to learn more about you and your story! Thank you for sharing!

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  24. I listened to the interview this morning on my way into work. It was wonderful listening to your story and learning more about the path you took to get to where you are. I have dreams of finding a footing in the industry, but envisioning how a speech-pathology/linguistics background feeds into it has been a challenge. That said, it is comforting to hear that your journey has not necessarily been a simple, linear one.

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  25. GREAT post! FIRST – you are an INCREDIBLE SUCCESS in this corner of the world in such an amazingly short period of time! I’ve been following you since Yarnover.me, and your growth and success is nothing short of inspirational. As a teacher, I deal with fear of failure with my reluctant learners on a daily basis. I try to tell them all the time that no successful person hasn’t experienced failure. Thanks for this post! Now I need to go listen to that interview!

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