This is What Failure Looks Like

Belma-kid

Failing sucks.

Or, does it?

I’ve been failing since I was eight years old. That’s the age I started dreaming big (roughly). As a young kid, I was quickly inspired by artists who fully put themselves out there. I loved talent and hard work and was in awe of people who were masters at something.

Some of my childhood heroes were Nancy Kerrigan, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Elvis, R.L. Stein, and Beverly Clearly, among many others. I spent my time trying to emulate many of these artists, from performing cartwheels in my living room to singing Mariah tunes on repeat.

Overall, these artists pushed me to look for my greatest talents, and as a result, I had quite the heartbreaking childhood experiences.

Let me explain…

Aiming to be the next Mariah Carey or Sylvia Plath?

I spent my preteen years in agony.  I was a very emotional child because everything moved me. So, I would write. I would write love poems that were so cheesy, I cringe when I read them now.

Here is a sample. (I could only bring myself to share a short piece with you. My husband actually found these a few years ago and, for a while, kept them by his bed.)

Belma-childhood-note

You’re cringing, right? I am…

While writing about my heartbroken, dramatic experiences as a 10-year-old and attempting to be the next great (Albanian-American) poet, I was also pouring out my heartbreak through song.

Mariah Carey was my big inspiration so I would very diligently try to hit her high notes while dancing on a chair in my kitchen. (Add fan blowing in face.)

I was persistent in perfecting my singing. Every day that I’d come home from school, I’d practice my art. I had also joined the chorus (as an alto), and auditions for a solo were coming up!

Of course, I was going to try out. I had big dreams and this was my chance to inspire my peers.

The day of the audition arrived, and I stood in front of the classroom. My chorus teacher played the notes on the piano to Colors of the Wind. I opened up and let my voice ring through the classroom with heart, soul and fear. I sang one line…some laughter.

I proceeded. I am not a quitter!

More laughter.

Ok I quit. I ran out of the classroom crying.

This is just one example of a time I failed miserably as a kid. There were plenty of other times, such as getting rejected from art school, trying out for the swim team and only making the wait list, taking the entrance exam to attend the top high school in NYC and spending the majority of the exam anxiety-ridden and in tears, among many more other painful and embarrassing events.

What resulted from these experiences?

To be honest, I’m only now looking back seeing what I learned. Once I started high school, I tried desperately to forget some of my childhood years and the ways in which I completely put myself out there.

(I once told my best friends in high school that this picture here was a friend of mine named Maria…)

Accidentally and to my detriment, I started to focus too much on what other people thought of me instead of what I thought of me. The negative feedback was too overwhelming for me as a kid.

Despite the failures that I faced, and some emotional setbacks that resulted from those experiences, I can’t say that I ever quit on finding my greatest talents, or that I have even changed too much since then.

I’m 33, and Still Risking Getting Laughed Off The Stage… But This Time, It’s for a Greater Purpose

Today at 33, I’m inspired by the same type of people who inspired me as a kid. Some of my heroes now are Seth Godin, Marie Forleo, Richard Branson, Cindy Gallop, Quentin Tarantino and many other artists and entrepreneurs.  Similar to my childhood heroes, they also fully put themselves out there and take risks to share what they love with the world.  

Finding my own greatest talents has continued to be a big part of my adult life, especially as I had to pick a “major” in college and finally, as I entered the workforce. I spent most of my twenties feeling unsatisfied at work. I loved working, but something was missing at every job.

At the age of 25, I felt a calling to create and to “build something.” But, I didn’t know how to manifest this feeling into an actual job. I finally became an entrepreneur at age 31 realizing that if I want something, I can just create it.

This is where my first company, BOULD comes in.

I spent the majority of 2015 feverishly pursuing the launch and growth of my first company.

BOULD was born less than two years ago while chatting with my two co-founders-to-be, April and Laura, in B-school discussing graduation. What should we do after we graduate? What are our next steps?

Entrepreneurship came up. Let’s start a venture. Since that meeting, entrepreneurship and launching my own company took up the majority of my time. It felt right.

However, my co-founders and I decided to change direction with the company, and to discontinue our core business – career coaching. We decided to go our separate ways because we discovered we had different purposes in our careers.

This was difficult. It meant hard, honest conversations that challenged our friendships and our business relationships. A lot of crying was included. 

Luckily, we came out of it in one piece, and we’re still good friends. 

During this significant change, I decided to transition to my own platform and build a website focused on redefining what we call work.

I started the transition immediately.

Within five weeks of discontinuing our career coaching business, I had taken a WordPress class, started work on my new website, developed a coaching program for a new client called WORK BIGGER, and developed a roadmap for my new platform which included my mission, vision, product offering and 100 ideas on making the platform succeed.

I started waking up at 5 a.m. to fit in work before work. (I work in business development at the Associated Press, and I’m a mom to a really adorable 10-month old who doesn’t always love to sleep.) Here’s what a typical day looked like.

Work from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. on my new business. 

Get my son and myself ready from 7 to 8, commute to work from 8-9, then work on nine (and eventually six after a conversation with my boss) businesses at my day job managing 10 to 15 partnerships.

Run out at 5:30 to pick up my son, and spend the rest of the evening splitting family work with my husband from bathing our son to making dinner to putting our son to sleep.

Are you exhausted reading this?

I am… I crashed. I crashed because being a parent, having a full-time job, and launching a business require a lot of mental, emotional and physical energy.

So, what’s the lesson here?

I don’t have a list of learnings like “10 Ways to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough ” or “How to Survive Failure.”

I just have a bit of clarity after some crashing and burning, and after experiencing failure often as a child and now as an adult.

As a kid, I went for what I wanted. Fear never stopped me, though I was certainly very fearful. But, after each heartbreak, I’d move on to the next thing in hopes of getting approval and applause from the outside.

As an adult, I know success is about something much bigger. It’s not about setting goals and checking them off a list. Real success comes from deep within.Tweet It! 

It’s really about accessing the best versions of ourselves and bringing that person forward for ourselves first, then for our families and for our colleagues.

I love what I do – from being a mom and a wife to negotiating multi million-dollar contracts at my day job to sharing this story and planning the launch of my next business.

Success is about enjoying the process, creating, building, doing what feels good rather than doing work to achieve a result, which is fleeting because there is always more to achieve.

I know this now after experiencing failure time and time again. Something bigger than the result keeps me going.

I’ll leave you with this (and this goes out to my ambitious, hard-working, type-A friends who are always pushing toward their next big goal).

Set goals, be strategic, work hard, but don’t let those things be bigger than you. Do what feels good. Practice your “art” wherever and whenever you can, whether that means taking five minutes on your commute to write your next blog post or finding the hidden gems at your day job.  

If you really love “it,” it will be. Let’s not force it.

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Lindsay says:

    Belma – you speak so much truth, with brave honesty. I admire everything you’ve been able to accomplish over the past 2 months and am grateful to have been a part of it.

    • Belma McCaffrey says:

      Thank you so much, Lindsay! It’s been wonderful sharing the launch of this new platform with you, and thank you for all of your support and guidance. 🙂

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