“What have you failed at this week?” – Sara Blakely
Check out this quick and amazing video that helped me redefine failure:
I do struggle with friends and family who have some awesome sounding ideas, but they’re afraid to even do anything with them. To me, that sounds like a much bigger failure than the idea not being successful.
When I was a younger stage manager, I got hired to work for a cruise line on a Wednesday and was out on a ship by Friday. I was nearly 10 years younger than the next youngest stage manager in the entire fleet. The office was just desperate to fill the spot and figured that, hopefully, I just wouldn’t kill anyone in the two months I was scheduled to be onboard and they would find an actually qualified stage manager after my contract was up.
To this day I think back on that contract and twitch a little because I could not have failed more at so many things if I tried.
The thing was though, I couldn’t give up.
Oh, this version of the schedule failed because I forgot a bunch of things.
Do it again.
Oh, this version of the schedule failed because singers can’t sing that early in the morning.
Do it again.
Oh, this version of the schedule failed because the nautical department forgot to send out an email about some training till the last minute.
Do it again.
It’s ridiculous but I can still vividly remember the day where I made and handed out the schedule six times before it was actually right.
When I think back on that first contract, I felt like the pong ball in that video game just careening from spot to spot, trying to find that paddle I need to bounce off of to keep moving.
It wasn’t graceful or pretty by any means.
I learned the right tone of voice to use with performers by using the wrong tone of voice several times.
I learned to turn off electricity to the source before working on something by electrocuting myself.
The first time I used a chop saw I nearly cut my arm off.
If failure really bothered me, I wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes in theater. If nothing else, I think theater helped me see the truth in Sara’s statements about failure even more.
When I work with a younger stage manager now and point out a flaw in some of their logic or paperwork and they’re surprised I caught it, I want to laugh and be like, “because once I didn’t catch it and chaos ensued and the world nearly came to an end but didn’t” but instead I usually just nod sagely like Yoda and move on.
Back to that cruise ship gig though – by the end of my second contract, cruise ships were my b*tch. I had effed up so many things that there was just about nothing that could go wrong, that I didn’t know how to fix.
And while you’re in the failure phase? Work your tush off. All it took was one person. There was a magician with an incredibly demanding temperament onboard who was very good friends with the corporate vice president of entertainment.
I was the first stage manager to make my technicians come in 15 minutes before his rehearsals to make sure everything was powered up and ready to go (common sense, right?). That decision was literally the reason he decided he loved me and told the corporate office they had to keep me. And that was why I worked on cruise ships for five years instead of a single two month contract (and I’m pretty sure still hold the record as the youngest stage manager they ever hired).
Even when you’re bumbling around like a pong ball effing everything you touch up, keep trying to do your best. There might be glimmers of success even within the failures.