Fail Is Not A Four Letter Word

I am a failure.

Several years ago, before there were dreams of law school, before there was the sketch of a business model for a law firm, my friend Jordan and I started a "weblog" about ethnic restaurants in Omaha. It was called Browne on the Town (the "E" is for "Ethnic"). Every week, Jordan and I would go to a different ethnic restaurant in Omaha and write a review about it. We both loved food, we both loved being the first to know about restaurants, and we both were looking for something to do. At first, our only interest was in getting restaurants to give us free food in exchange for free advertising. We knew we had to build a community, we knew we had to generate interesting and relevant content, and we knew we had to connect with restaurant owners in a way neither of us ever had. For a year, we laid the foundation. Later we thought seriously about monetizing our adventures.

Thai Cuisine--Delicious Ethnic Food

You have no reason to believe this, but we were a year ahead of the podcasting revolution. We were years ahead of food personalities having shows unrelated to cooking. We had a locally proven concept and were poised to start making money off of it.

And then life intervened.

I went to law school, Jordan went to get his Masters Degree in Social Work. Jordan really wanted to keep things alive, but I couldn't devote time to getting things done.

I failed because I couldn't give the project the time it deserved.

I am a failure.

Several years before that, in college, I chose to be a physics major. I wanted to follow in the old man's footsteps and be an engineer, so I dove head first into the physics program. At first, the numbers made sense. But as time went on, the numbers turned into greek symbols, and my brain turned into mush. I had to spend three times the amount of time anyone else did to get mediocre results.

Meanwhile, as a hobby, I dabbled in theater. At first, I volunteered in shows, in everything from acting to building. Everything I did in that department was fun. Everything I did for them was fulfilling. I produced tangible results, met interesting and creative people, and felt a sense of belonging. Eventually, I decided to have a theater minor, and began taking classes.

Bright Lights of Theater, or, Photons and Optics?

After four years of torturing myself, trying to balance the time requirements of two time consuming endeavors, I realized something. I realized, that I would never be good at physics, and that I was exceedingly good at theater. So I quit the physics program and joined the theater program instead.

I failed because I didn't play to my strengths.

I am a failure.

After college, I moved to Las Vegas to pursue a career in theatrical lighting design. I started working at a rental house, getting lighting instruments ready to be rented, making sure they were in good repair, making sure they were labeled correctly. There was no art. There was no path forward. It turns out, Las Vegas is a town without theater. How could there be, with casinos spending millions of dollars to bring in their own Broadway shows.

The payouts interfered with the quiet love scenes...

Could a community theater or regional theater ever compete with that? Would the casinos even let one try?

I failed because I tried to sell a product without a market.

The word "success" comes from the Latin word sucedere, which means "to come close after." It is interesting that a word with such an origin took on the meaning it has today. Today, success is a goal. Success is a judgment. We look up to successful people. Success has been equated with wealth, fame, and importance.

On the other hand, the word "fail" comes with its own negative stigma. Failing a test means you weren't prepared. There is an entire meme catalog online of "Epic Fails." Being called a failure means someone judges you as less than desirable. However, "fail" comes from the Latin word fallere, which in one definition means, "to trip, or to cause to fall."

Epic Seagull Fail

Courtesy of

In a very real sense, success is what comes after you fall: you get back up.

Neither falling, nor getting back up is inherently good or bad. As a business community we have assigned value judgments to these words. But perhaps there is another another word we should celebrate even more than success or failure. A word that describes the reason for failure, and the reason someone gets back up.

Risk. From the Italian word rischiare, which means "to run into danger."

According to the Small Business Administration, "About two-thirds of businesses with employees survive at least 2 years and about half survive at least 5 years." Instead of focusing on the the one third of businesses that fail, we should celebrate the three thirds of business owners that charged headlong into danger.

Maybe you failed because you didn't devote enough time to your project. Maybe you failed because you didn't find the right fit. Maybe you didn't do your research before you started out. At BVA, failure may be right around the bend, but we can proudly say we took the risk. Can you?

Leave a comment with your most lurid tales of failure, and let the world know that even though you fell down, starting the journey is the most important part. #riskybusiness

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