My Biggest Fear.

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Can I admit to you my biggest fear two years ago?

Failure.

A number of years ago, I was nominated for a Young Alumni Award by a Christian College group, and after a few weeks of what became intense online voting, I lost because the votes were skewed in a way that favored smaller schools (and my “tiny” private Christian college was not the smallest of them all). But you know what I was most concerned about when I got the email letting me know that I had in fact not won?

Failure.

When I got that email, I sobbed to the wonderful humans that loved me so well through that season because I had FAILED. I cried because I had let down the people who were “counting on me” to win. What people? Oh you know, my Facebook and Instagram friends who had simply logged on to vote... And so would clearly be incredibly devastated by this loss. (Yes, sarcasm there, friends.) And what had I lost anyway? Basically nothing. They had been incredibly unclear about what the prize actually was. I had ZERO clue what I was actually crying about… but I had let this online voting process get so up in my head that I couldn’t see the forest through the trees.

Because of the things I pursued and the graciousness of the people in my life in my early twenties, I was given a lot of attention and accolades for the thing that I dreamed of doing — making a difference. When I set out to create my company, I knew that failure was a potential outcome, and I did all the things to prepare correctly — read the books, talked to mentors, went to conferences — and yet I was still unprepared to handle the pressures that real life would throw at me when I tried to balance work and life and also please EVERYONE I’VE EVER MET and most people I haven’t in the meantime. (Spoiler alert: That last one is impossible. Give up trying now.) And so when I “failed” on a super small scale (with literally zero consequences for anyone including myself), I had no real experience to move forward from.

It would have been the healthy thing to take a minute there to look at my life and realize that I had an unhealthy addiction to success and people’s approval. That I craved it, and I thrived in situations where I could be successful and shriveled where I felt like I was unable to be everything to everyone. It would have been a healthy thing to do, but it would have taken someone much more mature than me to do so. And so I simply sobbed my little eyes out, wrote a strongly worded and yet VERY KIND (it was a Christian College Council, after all) email about my feelings about the voting process, and moved forward with my success addiction firmly in place.

Until the next time that failure was not so easy to recover from.

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If you’ve talked to me in the past two years and we’ve discussed my work, you’ve may have heard any number of versions about how things are going, why we scaled back, closed the shop, shut down our internship program and said goodbye to my wonderful employee Alana, eventually closing the product line altogether and then most recently reworking the brand to be a consulting platform.

You probably heard things about my new marriage and simplifying or I might have blamed it on our relocation because of my husband’s job or grad school. If I was feeling particularly honest, I might have talked about burnout and overwhelm. And those are all 100% truths that tell a part of the whole truth. They’re easier to stomach and explain than the tape that played in the back of my mind through the past year and a half. But we’re going to get into that real quick because I think it’s worth saying into cyberspace.

In my mind (and practically too), I failed.

We closed the shop because I wasn’t capable of sustaining it financially, relationally or emotionally. I was exhausted in all the ways, and it was time to say “enough is enough”. It was just too much. I was struggling, hard, and we made the decision to let it go in order to have space in my life to recover and heal. But admittedly, it was not a success.

Almost a year to the day later, I shut down the product line because I had no more creative juices to give to it. I had come to the end of myself, and I knew it was over. Honestly, it felt like so much less of a gut punch because it wasn’t something I was forced to do for financial reasons. By that time, I had gotten the counseling I needed to be able to see that maybe, just maybe, God was trying to do a new thing and letting go was the best next step. The product line could have kept going, but we (my husband and I) decided there were new things for me. That didn’t make it any easier and it didn’t make it feel like any less of a failure.

Here’s the deal:
I tried everything to not be PERCEIVED as a failure.

In the year between getting married and closing the product line, I had sit downs with multiple people and groups about buying the business and product line. I talked and talked and talked, reworked the business plan and tried to convince my way into heaven’s gates that THIS was why we needed so-and-so to keep the legacy of Dot Products alive. And all along, Heaven’s gates were whispering back “I’m keeping it alive if you simply just hold on and let me do it”. But I wasn’t ready for that quite yet.

And time and time again, there was one reason or another that so-and-so just couldn’t keep it alive — and it all came down to the fact that basically everyone believed that this was MY BABY. And I got mad. Because “What the actual hell, God?”

We closed the shop two Mays ago after just a year, and I went straight into a hibernation of sorts. I was angry because I wanted Dot to stay alive but it felt like I was incapable of doing it. Bluntly, I felt like I had cosmically “f-ed up” and this was God’s way of punishing me. I couldn’t see that He didn’t want me to do it. He wanted to do it, and He wanted to do it in His own way instead of the kind of jacked up way I’d concocted over the years.

And so slowly but surely, I just let all the pieces fall to the side because honestly I just couldn’t handle it. The passion I once had was completely gone, and there were days — long days — where I literally watched television and took a nap for most of the day. I tried to work myself back into the passion, but I’m not sure anyone has ever been successful at that.

At the same time, He let me have little projects throughout the past year where I found fires still blazing — projects that turned into consulting jobs and used the gifts and talents He had given me only through the five years of Dot Products. They hadn’t been a waste. They had just only been a season to learn things He needed to give me in a particular way.

Lately, God has been rewriting the narrative of failure for myself.

For so long, I fought it. I didn’t want to accept that failure is not only inevitable, it is beautiful if we let it be. It has made me more vulnerable, leading me into deeper relationships with others because of my need for community and support. I had no real understanding that when you actively work to pursue meaning, failure will be a part of your life. I’m still in the midst of figuring out what it means to thrive in the midst of failure, but from this situation, I’ve learned to use failure as a course-correcting mechanism instead of a identity-defining one.

And today, I’m developing a new biggest fear.

That fear is not living in the path of God’s will for our family’s life, regardless of it is perceived by other or how it feels. I think that new fear is going to lead to more failure than I imagine. I’m terrified but thrilled to see where He takes us.

Honestly, the old fear was easier. It kept me pursuing safe things, things that would not hurt me. Things that would keep me well-loved and cared for. This new fear makes me more vulnerable, more honest, more intentional, desiring deeper community and pursuing it in ways that may look odd to the everyday observer.

And that’s okay.

Hallie D. Brand