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Measuring success

My craft fair went poorly. I worked full-time for at least three weeks to get everything built, I spent nine hours in a noisy gym trying convince total strangers that they really needed a cart that they could pull up to their couch. I sold five items, barely 10% of what I'd brought with me.

Before. And, pretty much, after.

I'm writing all this because it's a clear assessment of how things went. It's also accurate to say that I failed at selling my products at the craft fair. And before you rush to console me about how I'm not a failure, and look at how much stuff I made, and what a great experience, and all the exposure, etc., hear me out. I'm really, really fine with failing at this.

For as long as I can remember, I've avoided situations that involved the risk of failure. I quit things I wasn't all that great at. I only ran for student council in high school because they required a boy and a girl from each class and there were no other girls running. I joined the newspaper in college because they were happy to have anyone who could type (For real. I was a typist, not a writer. I only wrote one or two articles in the entire three years I worked on the paper.). I got jobs through temp agencies because it was less of a risk than trying to get my foot in the door on my own.

But over the past decade or so, I've gotten tired of being so risk-averse. Learning to do something and trying it out is a risky proposition if you're trying to avoid failure at all costs, and avoiding risk, it turns out, makes life pretty boring. So I've been trying new stuff. I learned how to paint, and taught it to other people who didn't know how to do it. Several times, I failed to teach what I was supposed to. But I had support: colleagues who could bail me out, or who still let me teach in spite of my lack of expertise. We moved to India for a year. I failed to learn Hindi, or to evangelize the lost, or see the Taj Mahal. I spent most of my days shuttling the kids to and from school, which, let's face it, would have been easier to do in the States. But the experiences we had and the unity we built as a family could only have come from living halfway around the world without anyone familiar besides the five of us.

And now this woodworking thing. I love building, creating, learning something new. To support my hobby, I'm trying to sell stuff. And at the craft fair, I failed to do that. But I learned some new techniques: stenciling, design, and how to use the awesome machines in the Hampden Heights Library IdeaLab. I gained efficiency: I've made about 15 stepstools now, and I can build one in less than two hours, not including waiting for the finish to dry. I learned that trying to be pleasant, informative, and not desperate when talking with total strangers is really exhausting - I would have written this post last week, but I was still recovering energy-wise last Thursday.

So let's reframe failure, shall we? Or, more accurately, let's reframe the goal-setting piece of this whole thing. If I had broadened my goals from "Sell at least a third of my inventory" to "Learn some new skills, discover whether craft fairs are a good avenue for my work, get my name and brand out there, and also sell a third of my inventory", then it would have been easier to not get discouraged by the odd reticence of the shoppers of Highlands Ranch. And afterwards, I did decide to retroactively reframe my goals. I was 75% successful! That's a solid C grade, which, while not astonishing, is respectable. When I look at it from this perspective, it's not humiliating or crushing to have to say I failed at selling my inventory, because it isn't my only goal. Even if it was, I'm allowing myself to feel the failure and see that it's not anything more than a step on the journey. It was a risk that I took that didn't pan out. So? It would have been worse to avoid the risk and never discover that convincing total strangers to put their money down here instead of over there is actually my sweet spot. I'm happy with what I've learned.

I also feel that being able to stand up and say, "This didn't work out right. I need to try something different" is a skill that is lacking considerably in our culture. From perfectly curated Instagram accounts to celebrities and politicians willing to lay the blame anywhere other than on themselves, there are precious few people my kids in particular are observing who are willing to accept that they failed, and then move on without guilt or shame. My girl Brene Brown is working on changing that that, but often it's easier to learn how to do something from someone you know personally showing you how it's done, and then encouraging you to try it for yourself.

So. Thank you for your condolences, and if you find yourself in need of a stepstool, or a kitchen table, or a bench, get in touch. Because you aren't going to be able to track me down at a craft fair any time soon.

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