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Failure and Hustle Culture

I ask Nettie Owens of Sappari Solutions one of my burning questions in today’s episode, “Is it possible to do all of the work and still fail?” When businesses fail, we often chalk it up to them not trying hard enough. They didn’t work hard enough, so their business didn’t survive. But is that always true? Nettie levels with us about failure and hustle culture.

If you prefer the audio version, listen here:


Ruthie: This is our last segment and the time has flown! I’ve been excited to dig into every segment so far, so I’m coming at this with just as much energy. 

Can You Do All the Work and Fail?

Ruthie: I wanted to talk to you about how you see the future of business. Especially during the quarantine, people were sure they’d be laid off or not be able to go to work. I think this will create more entrepreneurs, people with great ideas flooding the market.

But when businesses fail, we often write it off as people not willing to put in the work. Is it possible to do all of the work and still fail? Is it possible to do too much? 

Nettie: So, those are two different questions. It’s absolutely possible to do all the work and still “fail”. If you had asked me, when I transitioned from my professional organizing business to my current business, I would’ve told you I failed.

I failed 100%. The year my business fell apart, I had a vision of constructing the perfect plan for getting to $1,000,000 and start reaching people globally. And I didn’t see any gaps in that plan. As I said, I’m a cross-the-T’s kind of gal, so this was going to happen. I had reached my goals, I had everything in place that was going to get me there, and it all fell apart. 

Understanding that failure was no big deal was an enormous hurdle for me. I didn’t even actually fail because I love the business that I have now even more! And I loved my previous business a lot in the first place. I remember falling asleep every night, thinking, “This is the most amazing life. I love what I do. I love the people I work with, and I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop because I love this so much.” And I love this business even more. 

Yes, You Can Do Everything Right And Still Fail

“For one, you can do all the right things and still fail. It’s 100% ok to fail because there’s a reason for that failure.”

Nettie Owens

For one, you can do all the right things and still fail. It’s 100% ok to fail because there’s a reason for that failure. What’s important is that you pause long enough to think, “Wow, what’s happening here? Am I actually failing, or is this clearing the way for something even better?” 

I work with a coach called Victoria Whitfield. She talks about the different spiritual aspects of being in business, and ways to manage your energy and your mindset. One of the elements that she talks about is katabasis, which is destruction of what’s currently there in order to make place for something new.

You might consider this like a phoenix rising out of the ashes. My previous business had to go away in order for this new business to be formed. And it was a painful process. 

We’re All Breaking Down Current Structures

The whole world’s in this moment of breaking down the current structures and formations, so we can build something new and hopefully better. In this time, we’ve seen amazing environmental improvements. People are healthier. They’re at home spending time with their families and getting to know them, etc. There are some really beautiful aspects that are coming out of this.

This is not to diminish the pain, because there’s real pain. People are really dying. There are people working tremendously long hours trying to help. There’s no denying that part of reality. But if something better doesn’t come out of this, then you’d have to question why we went through this process in the first place. 

The Previous Journey Led to This Reality

I could not have created the place where I am now if I hadn’t had those years as a professional organizer. It was 100% necessary. I like to bring to mind Milton S. Hershey, and how many times that man went bankrupt before he created the caramel candies that earned him enough money for him to be able to focus on Hershey chocolate.  

In the wake of this, people often experience destroyed relationships, dark nights of the soul, and all of that kind of stuff. But Hershey couldn’t have been successful out of the gate. He had to create something and have it not work, and create the next thing and have it not work, and create the next thing until he struck gold. Now there’s many different kinds of chocolate, a fabulous theme park, and tons of other things that are labeled with his name. 

The same thing is true for the light bulb. There were thousands of failed iterations before a light bulb actually worked. Failure is necessary.

Ruthie: I think it was 10,000 failed attempts before the lightbulb worked. 

Nettie: Yup, 100% necessary. If you haven’t failed in your business, you haven’t been in business long enough. 

What Is Your Stance on Hustle Culture?

Ruthie: So, what about the people who say, “Oh, you’ll succeed if you just push harder/hustle more/keep going/do more!” We have these two sides: some people don’t think that’s necessary, and others are all about hustle culture. If you’re not working 70 hour weeks, you’re not working. You don’t care. Your dreams are not important. What do you think about that? 

Nettie: I’m going to go back to what we were talking about in your vision; you don’t have to infuse hard work into it. And that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to sometimes work long hours, but at the same time that should not be the all-the-time mode.

I participated in one of those 30-day programs. I would say it was extremely valuable, but I also needed therapy afterward because I got myself so stressed out doing all the work that was required. It was that mindset of, “If you really want it, you’re going to spend 2-4 extra hours beyond what you’re already doing every single day to make this work.”

But if you’re hustling to the point where there’s no space for you to think and be creative in your business, then you’re going to fail in the way that there’s no learning

And I think it’s wonderful to see more and more women in business, because women are natural creators. That’s what we were put on this planet to do. We are the ultimate creators, but we also seek pleasure. We seek beautiful things, and we fill our environments with all sorts of loveliness, flowers, color, beautiful music and things like that. 

Constant Hustle Holds You Back

So I like the idea of moving towards your vision. There has to be room for your vision to expand. And part of what I see as the problem with hustling too hard is: 

  1. There’s no room for creativity. 
  2. You are not being decisive about what is in front of you

You’re not making that hard choice to let go of driving your kids to every activity under the sun and focus on your business or vice versa. You’re not making those hard decisions. You need to be decisive.

Also, you don’t have to be pushing all the time. When my clients say, “I need to just do it. I’m going to push through this.” I hop on the phone like, “Okay, that’s a red flag. Tell me what’s happening.”

Ruthie: That makes a lot of sense! When I was in the Army, that was definitely the mentality. I mean, sometimes that is what you have to do. But I think it’s important to know the difference. Do I actually have to, or am I choosing to run myself into the ground? Most people wouldn’t admit they’re running themselves into the ground. 

Nettie: I think they’re not decisive, so it almost becomes a de facto situation. They’ll say, “I have to do all of these things.” But do you really? Let’s look at that. And you’re right, there are definitely situations where you work hard and push through.

The other day, I was up late and then I got up at 5.30 the next day to finish a project. But that meant that today there was more expansion in my morning routine and I didn’t put quite as much work on my schedule. Having room to understand that ebb and flow is very important.