business food

Delicious Failure

by Sara — November 24, 2015

Image credits: Thinkstock, Illustrator Mark Airs

 

Along with my afternoon tea, today failure tastes like homemade banana bread abundant in walnuts. It tastes welcoming and satisfying. I’m pretty sure I’ve come full circle just as a lesson in appreciation.

The café, which involved many months in planning, and, of course, time and money spent, is closed. There’s a fact rattling around in my brain that says 80% of businesses close within the first year. And now I know why.

I tried at something. I failed at something. (I also killed our new cat with the car.) It’s been an epic month for imperfections. While there is still some residual guilt and woulda-shoulda-couldas, I’m okay. I feel sparkier. I feel lighter. And this feminist is back to being a housewife. I’m okay with that too. And actually, I appreciate the simpleness of dusting a shelf, sitting in the sun while the girls play, tomato sauce experimentations, buying new plants and baking banana bread with walnuts cause that’s the way we like it.

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Hopefully appreciation can be maintained. Because that’s always the tough part, isn’t it? One thing I’ve thought a lot about lately is why I spent all those summers as a waitress. The restaurant business is binary: men (usually) in the kitchen, women (usually) serving. Careers are in the kitchen; quick money is in the dining rooms. Serving is not an easy job but it’s hardly an extendable skill. Why do we see so many women as servers? It must be because our female nature bends to please others (she said sarcastically). Cooking has mostly been deemed a woman’s job in the home. But when cooking is concentrated outside the home, it is men who are the chefs. It is men who have developed careers in the kitchen while women have a few extra dollars in their pockets but not much more to show for it.

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Food, thankfully, is everywhere. Cooking is creative and soulful. Instead of making extra cash, I really wish I spent those summers improving my knife skills, absorbing flavor combinations, developing my palette, and learning something rather than memorizing the daily specials.

But that’s not appreciating how things are as they are. Is it? Let me appreciate things the way they are: I have time for myself. I have time for my husband. I have time for my kids. And I still have time to work on those knife skills.

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  • Let’s not mince words: it fucking sucks to reach for something and: a) not succeed, or b) not receive the due we feel worthy of. It sucks, totally. Let’s sit with that for a second. Yes, good. Let’s have another bite of banana bread. Savour the comfort the sugared rush gives us. Mmmmmm. Delicious. Swallow. Repeat.

    Ok, now that your mouth is full of banana bread let me say that I admire your guile. Truly. I do. I also will throw out that I sympathize with your current acceptance of the present situation and move to turn disappointment into something good. You know, I sometimes wish people were more pragmatic about entrepreneurship and the challenge of breaking into certain fields. It would be nice if we were less starry eyed and overly idealistic, and more willing to discuss the steep learning curves we will face if we chose to take a chance on something we desire. This is a universal truth, well, unless one is afforded the trifecta of privilege, opportunity and networks. (Somehow those three make the chance of success far better, in which case: if you have them, use them for all they’re worth!)

    Sadly, failed attempts are still taboo, and it is only when we are eating dirt–commiserating in the mud with others–that we learn failure is commonplace, and sometimes more common than success. I don’t get why the concept is treated like real-life Voldemort. Shhhhhhhh! Don’t name the phenomenon. Don’t court the idea you might fail. It’s ironic since failing sometimes winds up being our bridge to success: a rite of passage that must take place so we can move on to the other, bigger, better, and brighter things.

    Thanks for your post Sara, and the realizations you shared. Especially the ones that point to you, rightly, being a (capital ‘F’) Force. You are a Force because you stopped talking about what you wanted to do and put yourself out on the line. In the end, you tried. You did the goddamned work. The nice thing about doing the work is you are worthy of whatever labels you want to claim. Cook? Let me clean off your medallion. Baker? It’s yours. Café manager? Put that on your CV too. I say, take ALL THE LABELS. You’ve earned every last one, including “failure,” but the great thing about it is that it is only one label of many. For not only are you a failure, you’re a mother, wife, community member and friend. You are a knife-wielding business owner.

    You, intrepid warrior, are a motherfucking boss.

    To mark your delicious failure I say: eat all the walnut banana bread. Eat the loaf, bake another, and then throw together a third. Feel free to eat every last crumb of your confections, although share if you’d like. Find satisfaction in simple comforts and dive deeper into those blessed lessons of appreciation you’ve learned. Maybe by the fourth or fifth bread all the dirt will be cleared from your mouth, and you’ll be eyeing up your next adventure. You’ll start marking the mountains you want to climb. You’ll stoke the fires of whatever passion grips you, knowing that there’s no such thing a “failing” per se. We can’t really fail as long as we do the heavy lifting.

    But having said that, I bet your next failure will taste glorious.

  • Bridget

    Yes to everything JoAnna said! OMG this post breaks my heart. I feel for you sistah. There’s so much failure to go around and it seems to have a lovely way of sucker punching you in the face and then kicking you when you’re down. There were so many forces fighting against you this time – including electricity to run your shop. We’ve all admired you for taking on this endeavor from day one! Just know we will be here to support you with your efforts at home and then anything else you’re brave enough to tackle in the future. Sending oodles of warm hugs and lovin’ from Hong Kong. xoxo

  • I’m thirding Joanna (because I’m always late to the party). I wish we talked about failure more – individually and as a society. I feel it often has more lessons to teach us than success, but because everyone’s so intent on hiding our less-than-perfect moments, when you fail you often feel alone and in the minority, when you’re anything but. I’ve had a year full of failures and setbacks and I think I’m running the risk of being scared to try anything new for a while as a result. I’m also running the risk of stuffing a sock in the mouth of the next person who tells me how easy it is to quit your office job and live your dream.

    So, I’m an admirer of your trying. It makes me want to keep trying, to examine my failures as they will inevitably occur, and then keep moving.

    • *Slow clap* It seems that 2015, while good in several respects, has been a year of failure/roadblocks/dirt eating for many of us. Like you, Cheney, and like Sara, I’ve had my share of failed attempts and currently stand at the crossroads of Call it Quits (that’s to the west), Put Your Head Down and Forge Ahead (that’s north), Take a Breather and Regroup (that’s kind of northeast), and Use Your Rage to Punch All the Ignorant Loudmouths (definitely the southern route).

      While I know myself well enough to know what road I’ll take eventually, right now my strategy involves camping out at the crossroads and: 1) connecting with my tribe members and letting them carry me; 2) taking a “time out” from social media/Internet platforms that don’t inspire; 3) go for weekly shoulder rubs by small boned women who look weak, but have hands like clamps and succeed in squeezing the entitled, whinging brat right out of me, and 4) ingesting as much sparkling wine and chocolate as I can stomach.

      Fallible truth: Throwing up the white flag is a sign of weakness.

      Infallible fact: There is merit in temporary surrender because it is where we find the answers to our questions. Also, rightly applied pressure by clamp hands feels pretty damn good.

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