Failure, Success, Profit & the Pursuit of Happiness

"my worth will not be dictated by a number" print by FreshWordsMarket{inspirational print by Fresh Words Market-$5 from each sale goes to PEACE Mexico}

“I do it for the joy it brings because I am a joyful girl.

Because the world owes me nothing and we owe each other the world.”

~Ani Difranco

Failure. Feeling like a failure and fearing failure are the two things I think cause people to cut their dreams off at the knees. So before we finish off our month of back to business awesomeness I want to talk about how failure is completely subjective and entirely up to you.

I have failed more then I have succeeded according to most people’s definitions of success. If failing means lack of profit then my bank account is solid proof of my failure to care enough about making money. In the interest of transparency, if I factor in all the hours spent on Oh My! Handmade and all the money I have put out it looks a bit like $.016 cents an hour. But its not just Oh My if I look back and consider how much extra time, love and effort I put into every single job I have had and subtract it from my wage or profit-I’ve never made more then minimum wage. If a job is 40 hours a week I work 60-I am hardwired that way.

Money it turns out, is not my bottom line. Joy is. 

Do I feel overworked and underpaid, resentful and frustrated? NO!  It has been my choice every time. Because profit alone does not equal success for me. Success is loving what I do, making things better, and doing my absolute best with all of my heart no matter what the job is (dishes don’t count). Success is making enough to continue doing what I love but being willing to go without to get to where I want to be. I have been given opportunities to make a lot of money in my life and have walked away from all of them to do things for less pay because doing the job would not have taught me anything or contributed to my happiness.

My aunt committed suicide when I was 12. I received my inheritance at 19 when I was living and working with children and youth in East Vancouver. I worked a union job, made great money, was single and had a cheap apartment. When I got a big chunk of money from my aunt did I save for a rainy day? Or invest wisely? No. I took the money and paid my rent for a year, went on a leave of absence from my job and created Camp Experience Your Dreams a non-profit summer camp for inner city children. Every penny was worth it-I took 120 children into the forest and to the ocean, many of whom had never left the city before. We spent 4 days together eating organic food and offering workshops on everything from coastal biology to Dr. Suess hip-hop. It was the best year of my life.

My family told me I had failed to properly use the money since I did not use it to make more money (which isn’t technically true I raised over $20,000 for the camp but didn’t personally see any of it). But the children who came to camp that year didn’t think so and neither did I. I learned that year I could do anything if I cared enough and that what looks like failure to some can actually be success of the best kind. It also taught me that I could work my ass off for very little financial return and love every second of it. Releasing any fear of failure if I didn’t make money opened the doors to take risks and opportunities that resulted in incredible relationships, learning and yes, even some cash. I also learned that often success and failure go hand in hand.

Making money and profit as creatives seems to be a hot topic in the handmade community right now. You know I think your talent and time are valuable and should never be undersold and that you should build a business that will bring you financial and personal success.  But I think profit looks different to each of us and we can only define what it looks like for ourselves. My profit might be very different from someone who thinks they are only succeeding if they make 6 figures or more. My profit could even look an awful lot like failure to them.

If I wanted to make more profit from Oh My! and leverage my time for money I could. There have been more big advertising offers then I could count since I started. Do you want to see an ad for tires above our banner? Me neither. I could make you pay for things we offer for free. I could create a book or course that would tell you how to imitate my success here and try to convince you to buy it. I could spend less time caring about you and your stories or pursuing my own art and more time selling things. I could take more of the spotlight and spend less time promoting the work of contributors. Lots of people have told me this. But I already knew it, the thing is that profit matters less then building this right.

I am willing to put out more then I receive financially because I receive more in other ways. And I know the value in slowly creating a business instead of rushing to bring in the cash. My plan is a long term one and profit has a place in it but is not on the top of my list.

I’m not independently wealthy, my partner and I are both under 30 with two kids and a big mortgage, making these choices means that we have to live carefully. All told we make about $40, 000 a year. But we have enough. Enough that my children have local food to eat and beautiful places to sleep and play. Enough that I can follow the meanderings of my heart. I could easily feel like we were struggling but I choose to feel like we have all we need. I am defining success on my own terms.

So the long and the short of it is-don’t let anyone tell you your business is not successful unless you make a profit and don’t fall prey to products that promise the key to success.

Make up your own rules, follow your own path, find the enough that is just right for you.

When success is no longer based on your profits but the lessons you learn and the people you meet along the way you are freed from expectations and the sky is the limit. Failures become successes and sometimes even financial success becomes failure (as illustrated by the people leaving their comfy jobs in droves for the insecurity of entrepreneurship).

So imagine you were not afraid to fail-what would you do?