There is no shortage of inspirational messages out there, from cheery office coffee mugs, to the endless I-did-it-so-can-you video clips shared across social platforms. The sea of inspiration is easy to drown in if you cannot find sanity's shore.
This month, dry land appears for those who, like me, are more at home with another motivational poster I recall from a few years ago. The poster depicts a woman on a pile of wood with the caption, "What does not kill you makes you stronger… but it usually kills you."
Not that I have a death wish, but let's be honest: in order to get to success, you often have to fail. And failure is a part of life.
A new conference devoted to failure is debuting in Grand Rapids on May 23 at 7 p.m. at Wealthy Theatre (1130 Wealthy St. SE). Should this grand experiment, literally presented on a bare stage, become a hit, than it is only a matter of time before states including Alaska, Florida, and New York get their own version. (There are requests already from these three states.) This month, all eyes are on Failure-Lab
to see if it is successful.
Failure-Lab is being put on by six community members: Jordan O’Neil, Austin Dean, Jonathan Williams, Adam Bradway, Brian Dokter, and Amanda Rogalski. I met with Williams and Rogalski at Wealthy Bakery to discuss the event.
"There is a bit of humor tucked in it if you think about the challenges of presenting this new event," says Williams. "I mean, we literally could result in a failed failure-inspired event."
Humor aside, one aspect becomes clear: Failure be damned! This event is happening full on, and the lineup and the topic's board appeal will ensure there is something for everyone.
The list of speakers, or, as Failure-Lab refers to them, storytellers is presented as a series of intriguing labels: The Protector, The Mother, The Artist, The Singer, The Graffiti Artist, and The Teacher.
If you want to probe deeper or get a peak into their lives, you can click the videos on each storyteller. However, after I started my second one, I decided I wanted to be surprised by their live confessions.
Failure-Lab's staged theatrical setting is a direct tribute back to the moment that inspired the team to produce Failure-Lab, TEDxDetroit. Williams says the audience was moved by the off-the-beaten-path style of TechTown's Randal Charlton, who shared a highly personal survey of his life.
"Here was a man who had one failure after failure happening all around him to the point (where) he was sitting on the beach downing one drink after another, plunging deeper into despair over the course of events in his life," says Williams. "And while most would be horrified by his state of affairs spiraling out of control, it was really Charlton's revelation that in his darkest moment, the loss of his confidence was the bottom."
Charlton would go on to say that it was his move to Detroit -- a place many like to characterize as broken -- where he rediscovered his confidence.
The storytellers have been interviewed and then curated into this presentation with a format not too unlike other speaker-driven events.
Storytellers will share their failure story in a lightly scripted 7-minute presentation. Immediately after the speaker is finished, the audience will be encouraged to respond over the next 60 seconds via Twitter. Attendees, using the #FailureLab hashtag, can register their immediate and individual responses or thoughts on what they just heard.
The resulting tweets will be captured and added to Failure-Lab's webpage corresponding to the specific storyteller. The hope is that the gathering of this collective knowledge will help provide a thread to help others at various spots of their journey to not feel so alone.
To be clear, this event isn't about the old adage of misery loving company, but rather about the universal nature of the theme -- failure knows no boundary. It is a chance to rebuild individual confidence through group participation, but also a way to establish and maybe even repair networks or ideas within a city, region, or state.
When pressed about initial feedback, Williams is quick to point out that for all our social platforms and the ability to connect us in ways never before imagined, we have actually become more isolated. This event seeks to bring us back to that human face-to-face experience. Our interaction around these stories might actually provide pathways for others who might be feeling alone in their struggle.
There even has been feedback asking why failure should be glorified in this manner.
"We all know too well that the shame associated with failures can shut a person down," says Williams. "And yet we know from popular folklore that mountains are great, but real growth in our lives often happens when we are down in the valleys."
It is refreshing to hear such poetic speech over the din of traditional corporate speech. And while many of Failure-Lab's attendees will begin as strangers, the 90-minute presentation and reception to follow will ensure we're all a little bit closer at the end. This is part of the experiment, and thus why the laboratory aspects are present.
In keeping with the spirit of poetry, there will be art-fueled interludes featuring five musical guests and one dancer.
If the feeling I had after spending a bit of time with the planners of this event is any indication, I am certain this event will build relationships in our city in a whole new way.
Failure-Lab really wants their inaugural event to reach the people of West Michigan who may have lost their way in failure's grip and together, show them they can try again.
The Future Needs All of Us.
Four dynamite G-Sync approved events are here
for the taking.