The “F” Word

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Failure stings.

But it is up to you to decide whether that sting will crush your soul or strengthen your spine.

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My biggest failure sent me into a deep depression for over a year and drove me into exile in a tiny town in the middle of New Jersey. I had launched and crashed my own magazine three years prior. It was called Fierce, and it was a smart, audacious, little magazine for women “too bold for boundaries.” We (the team and I) thought of it as a progressive young woman’s comfort food for the mind. It lived proudly and loudly for five issues over the course of a year and a half with issues in bookstores around the U.S. and Canada and with some high-profile interviews with newsmakers like Benazir Bhutto (former Prime Minister of Pakistan), Alina Fernandez (Fidel Castro’s daughter) and former The Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet.

fierce covers summermoon

But it tanked into a heartbreaking, steaming mess of nothingness—about US$130K of my savings, loans and the generosity of family and a team member just gone.

Nothing I could do would revive Fierce. I ran out of money and options. And quickly, I faced the aftermath of bill collectors (so many bill collectors that I stopped going to my mailbox), threatened lawsuits from people who had been colleagues, the disappointment of a team that had really believed in our mission and hung in there with little pay and no benefits, and most importantly for me, a slow and devastating dissolution of my own belief in my abilities.

The F-word, stamped large and in bold, capital letters on my forehead, almost crushed me.

Lonely walks on a beach, the support of good friends and family and finally, a new job with benefits and regular paychecks helped prevent me from getting completely swept away. It took three years of extreme savings to pay off all the bill collectors and to be able to look myself squarely in the mirror again. Even though the scars still remained and I was not quite the same optimistic person I was before, I got back on my feet and steeled myself to start again.

0_Watching the view

‘Cause I had to start again. No matter how many times I get knocked down, I have to get back up and try again. There is really nothing else for me to do with my life. I need to give shape and substance to the ideas in my head that might possibly help transform the lives of women and girls.

Here’s what I learned: I am not the only one who has dealt with the big F. And yet, back then, I felt like I was the only one. I didn’t know many other women founders. And I was too ashamed to seek them out and look for comfort or advice. I thought everyone would judge me.

But now, as I talk to more and more entrepreneurs, I hear these fairly commonplace stories of failure, and I wonder how we might be a space of support for each other when everything goes sideways and wonky, especially our self-esteem.

I think maybe the first thing we can do is tell the truth. By sharing our truths and our struggles, we can learn from each other. Maybe I could have shaved off some time from my three-year sentence, at least cut back on some of the self-recriminations, if I had trusted and talked to others.

Well, it’s never too late to start. So I am getting the ball rolling now. I chatted with other female social entrepreneurs in the girltank network who have struggled with having to close down their ventures or who have made colossal mistakes personally and professionally and who have agreed to tell their stories or pass along words of wisdom.

Take in some of their hard-learned lessons, and maybe it will help you move more easily through your own trials. Let’s build a safe haven for each other here. I invite those of you reading who have stories to share them on Twitter and Instagram with #fail4good. Only caveat – shame is not allowed.

As for me, I think I may take on failing as a career. If I reach big enough and high enough, I’ll never reach my goals. And maybe that is the most inspired way to live after all.

NEXT: Sapna Shahani Shares Her Failure Story

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