The Importance of The Glorious Failure

I write all the time about taking risks and quitting jobs and chasing dreams and achieving success. But the thing I rarely write about is one thing every success story has—failure.

Not just failure, either. Glorious failure. There’s a difference.

I was thinking about this recently because I was talking to a friend who just quit her job to do what she’s always wanted to do—start her own business. She had been making plans and getting ready for months, and now was finally ready to do it. As she was talking, I couldn’t help but think about my own decision to quit my full-time job, four years ago.

I was so starry eyed in those days, so convinced my “big break” was just around the corner. I saw myself in the way she was talking and in some ways, I envied her naiveté a little. In other ways, I remembered:

This is what it’s like before your glorious failure.

When I first left to go on my road trip, I was convinced my “big break” was just around the corner. It had been my dream for years to write a book, but the timing hadn’t ever been exactly right and I hadn’t had any great opportunities.

failure

As far as I was concerned, that was all going to change on this road trip. I was going to quit my job, take this leap, and the Universe would match my risk with an equivalent reward.

Risk big, reward big. Right?

I was convinced this is how I was going to get a book contract: I would be in some random city at some random person’s house and I would tell them about what I was doing. This person would take a look at my blog and be so impressed by my writing, they would rant and rave about how brilliant I was.

And oh, by the way, they just happened to work for a publisher. The next day, they would show my blog to their acquisitions team and—boom—I’d have a book deal.

Instead, after nearly a year of traveling, I came home.

I had no money, no job, no place to live, no furniture, no car and definitely no book contract. The road trip, my dream of writing a book, the decision to quit my job—the whole thing seemed like a giant failure.

And here’s the thing. It was.

If I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit I probably quit my job too soon. Or, maybe not too soon, but just without a really solid, long-term plan of what I was going to do to sustain myself. I had a plan for making a living while I was on the road, but what did I plan to do when I came home?

I didn’t plan to do anything. I didn’t think I was going to need a plan. I thought I was going to have a book deal and sell a bunch of copies and be rich forever.

That was my whole plan. And it was a total failure.

But here’s what turns a regular failure into a glorious failure, in my opinion.

I didn’t let it stop me.

It didn’t matter that I quit my job too soon or that I didn’t have a plan or that I realized nobody gets a book deal the way I described. It didn’t matter that I was wrong or naive or that I should have done a better job of thinking things through. It didn’t matter that I was accepting food stamps and taking handouts from my roommate at the time.

None of that mattered. I didn’t let it stop me.

I let the failure humble me. But I didn’t let it crush me. I allowed myself to see the areas where I had been overconfident. I readjusted my expectations. But I didn’t quit working, quit fighting, quit wrestling toward the thing I had always wanted—to write a book.

And in that way, the failure became glorious.

Instead of giving up, I got a job at Starbucks.

I know that might not sound glorious, but it was. Because working at Starbucks to pay my bills while I struggled to write a book proposal and pitch it to publishers and struggle through the process taught me that no success comes easily.

There is no such thing as a “big break”. The journey is the reward.

When I set out to accomplish my dream of writing a book and being published, I had no idea how hard it would be. I had no idea the hardships I would encounter, the setbacks, the confusion, the struggle… I had no idea how many times I would fail.

If I had, I probably wouldn’t have done it.

But failure, if you ask me, is necessary. Failure teaches us. Failure guides us. Failure will direct us. And if we let it, failure will turn us into something glorious.

9 comments on “The Importance of The Glorious Failure

  1. Thanks for this. It’s exactly what I need today, because today is the start of what I’m pretty sure will be a glorious failure in my life. But today is also the very first day of my next big adventure. Thanks for sharing.

  2. “There is no such thing as a “big break”. The journey is the reward.”
    I suspect this is particularly true of book writing . My efforts have so far ended with what I would describe as a ‘thud’. But I suspect even ‘name’ authors focus their energies on the journey and pause only briefly to bask in success…more like an, “Oh, yeah, thats nice.” To be defined by your last success is just as profitless as being defined by your last failure–even a glorious one.

  3. I think the hardest part of failure for me is knowing when to walk away. I tend to keep trying to make things work long after I should have stepped back, learned what I could, and recalibrated. I’ve been trying to notice this lately myself, in order to make better choices a liiiiittle bit more quickly. 😉

    • Thank you Allison for this post.

      Melissa, I made that same mistake in 2009. I hung on to my business all the way down into the dark pit. I saw the signs that it would fail, but for some reason – I just couldn’t let go – until I was forced to. It was a glorious failure and source of insight for me.

  4. I have had a glorious failure in my life. I was in a very wrong relationship with a very wrong person…for a very long time. I finally left it and, looking back now 10 years later and happily married to the best person I know, I agree that these glorious failures are meant to humble us – but not stop us from living. I look back and wonder ” what could I possibly have been thinking?” And I can’t answer that question because I have no idea. But I have allowed that glorious failure to be my best teacher, and while I still regret that situation deeply, I didnt let it convince me to stop hoping for a miracle, which I found in my husband. I’m a better wife for that glorious failure, that “happy fault” that St. Augustine speaks of with such understanding. I get it now.

  5. I needed this so much today. It calms my heart a bit to remember everyone makes mistakes and they often turn into exactly what we need. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  6. I keep a Neil Gaiman quote on my desk that talks about making “glorious and fantastic mistakes.” I’m also partial to a quote from ART AND FEAR that talks about how often we, as the audience, don’t know the art we’re viewing/reading, etc was “seconds from total collapse.”

    Because I don’t truly know a whole book until it’s in the first pass pages stage, these quotes give me great courage to continue in the often murky and wide – open drafting and revision portions of the process.

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