We Do Not Fail


When I used to work in offices, I had this inspirational quote hung over my desk. It reads, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I’d look at it every now and then and think about my parallel universes a lot: The one in which I lived on a farm in Vermont and made pottery. The one in which I have an Oregon bed and breakfast. Going back to acting or singing or learning to play guitar.

I did make that leap from my dank little cubicle life to full-time freelancing from home two+ years ago, and I am 1,000 times happier. I guess that was a risk I took and didn’t fail, at least not yet.

The other night, my daughter, Grace, found the plaque and asked me to read it to her. She held it up in her hands. “We don’t fail. We don’t need this,” she said, and marched it over to the trash can.

This was the precise moment when I started learning something from my child, in a solid, measurable, tangible way.

Yesterday, I was getting ready to send the three chapters of my memoir to my agent. She needs them to sell the book. This was the fourth or maybe fifth pass at this, I don’t know, I’ve lost count. I’d thought I was done at the end of February, but then my readers–the people in my life I trust most, whose opinion perhaps is even more influential than my own–came back and told me it wasn’t ready. I cried for two days solid. And then I got back to work, waking up at 6 a.m. every day to flesh out the bony parts of the manuscript, to make it better, more solid. I just let it take its own path and stopped thinking about what everyone else wanted and more about what the book should be.

I had a final reader lined up, but he was busy with a new baby and a trip to Asia, so I excused him.

I took one final pass at my words, and realized it’s just not going to get any better. I’ve done all I could.

If I send it, and if it’s not good, I don’t know what the next step is. I would no longer be in the dreamy limbo of “writing a book,” but instead, “wrote a book and it didn’t work out.”

I hovered over the email and kept finding things to do instead of sending it. Laundry, tea, dog walk. I thought of all the reasons I shouldn’t send it at all. And then, I remembered what Grace said. “We don’t fail.”

We don’t fail. I hit send.

God, you can keep the confidence of a mediocre white man and please grant me the confidence of a magical, kick-ass, gives zero f***s 4-year-old.

Vanessa McGradyWe Do Not Fail

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