What Would You Do if You Did Fail? by Catharine Bramkamp

What Would You Do if You Did Fail? by Catharine BramkampLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us: “What Would You Do if You Did Fail?” Enjoy!


This August I experimented with the coaching cliche: what would you do if you could not fail?

Here is what I would do:

  • Launch a full Teachable Class on Journaling.
  • Submit new poems to anthologies and journals.
  • Submit my new novel, True Blue Lies to a publisher.

By October the results were in: 

  • The class got zero sign ups.
  • The poems didn’t make the editorial cut.
  • The book was rejected.

Then the power was turned off for three days.


Outside the weather was warm and sunny. Inside my house it was dark and cold.

I seemed to be living every cliche a person could think of.    

I always walk my talk. It is one of my coaching strengths.

I sincerely wanted to discover what would happen if I absolutely did what I always wanted to do with the full belief I could not fail.

The underlying promise of that question is if you really did go for it, then of course you would succeed.

If we want something badly enough, we should get it right?

I read The Secret, it all should work out.

It did not work out. At all.

What would you do if you could not fail, but you failed anyway?

There is no rejoinder for a surprisingly bleak outcome.

So what to do when faced with massive truck loads of failure?

First, wallow, look sad and explore new adult beverages. Once that is done, what happens next? Not much.  

That is the surprise. Failure doesn’t carry any forward energy or momentum.

There is no follow up to failure. There is regrouping, there is reevaluation, there is editing.

There are some tears. There may even be lessons learned, which is another cliche — that we learn more from our failures than from our success.

As if learning and not the absolute joy of success is the life goal.

Energy of Failure

But back to the energy. 

Unlike a power outage, there are not many lasting effects of a failure. I know because I just did them all. 

You don’t need to follow up with a publisher who just said your story isn’t right for them.

You don’t need to send thank yous to new students who thought your class would be life-changing. 

You don’t need to troubleshoot and edit poems that are almost there and, can you fix line five before we publish?

Nothing. Crickets. The sound of expensive food slowly defrosting in the powerless freezer.

Those of us who were dragged through an educational system based on crime and punishment will remember that we were very much punished for failure.

There was no such thing as experimental learning. There was no such thing as multiple tries to get to the right answer or even just arriving at the best answer.

We either delivered the right answer in the right order and earned a good grade or we didn’t and we failed.  

Twelve years of THAT and it’s hard to shake the feeling that you are inferior, less than, stupid, for failing.

Failure means nothing 

The irony? In the adult world there are no grades. 

Failure means nothing.

In the business/creative world, failure doesn’t carry much of a stigma at all.  In fact, your friends don’t care that you just failed.  

What they care about is that you are involved in something interesting enough to discuss over a candlelight dinner.  

What your partner cares about is that you are involved in creating work you love so you wake up every morning happy, energized, and remembering where you left the flashlight light night. 

What PG & E cares about . . . Well, PG & E doesn’t care. 

That’s why this cliche is a cliche. The question is a way of helping you and me escape our heads and throw out something new onto the page. It’s a simple way to offer up space to experiment with new ideas and see what happens.  

That’s all, just see what happens.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen.

Sometimes the work isn’t right for the time. Sometimes it was submitted to the wrong place. Sometimes it needs a tweak or edit.

In the service of intense work 

Here’s the thing: all that effort was not in the service of a big, grand success, it was in the service of intense work.

Our poetry, our novels, our presentations, our reports, they are all about the effort and the creation.

It’s about playing in the zone. And that is worth, well, everything. 

Creation is the win. 

No matter what the outcome, if you spent the week in the throes of  passion, doing exactly what you love – success!

And if you run amok and do everything you ever wanted to do because you cannot fail. Do it. No one cares if you fail. They just care if you try again and have back up batteries on the shelf. 


Huffington And Oprah: If At First You Don’t Succeed, Fail & Fail Again. Harvard Study Concurs. https://www.forbes.com/sites/remyblumenfeld/2019/09/29/turn-failures-into-successes


Editor’s note: Did you try and fail in your writing life? Share your experience in the comments.



Catharine BramkampCatharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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