The hidden truths behind Success and Failure

G Day Calgary: sad to let go, but still dreaming the dream until next year!

There’s a lot of talk these days about how awesome failure is: I have seen failure panels and even failure parties come into small business vogue in recent years. Which is fantastic: there is tons to be learned in every effort that we make, and it’s good to see it validated alongside its traditionally shinier sister, success.

The funny thing about this conversation is that it seems totally true and hip and cool when we are talking about other people’s or businesses’ failures, and a very different story when it comes to one’s own: we are still freaking terrified of disappointing, letting others down, looking foolish, losing money and so on.

So: I have this sweet little legacy project that I have been working on for a couple of years called G Day. It’s a secular rite of passage celebration series for tween girls and their parents and other caregivers and so far it has been going great. The longer story is quite magical, and to say that it’s near and dear to me doesn’t even begin to tell the story: it’s an idea that I have been carrying in my heart since I was an adolescent girl myself, and I have loved sharing it with my own freshly 11 year old daughter.

We have enjoyed a pretty wonderful ride so far, complete with angel sponsors, incredible volunteers and supporters, sold-out events in multiple cities and wonderful feedback from almost everyone. Has it been perfect? Absolutely not: we have on occasion overwhelmed, underwhelmed, miscommunicated, disappointed and even been a little boring and confusing.

Our latest dose of imperfection came yesterday when we decided to pull the plug on our next event in our newest city: Calgary, Alberta. Slated to take place in just a few short weeks and meticulously crafted by one of our most dedicated supporters (our Calgary Community Leader Madeline Ell is singlehandedly responsible for our gorgeous videos: here’s the first one that she ever did – I challenge you not to shed a tear!), a patch of tough timing (a terrible fire situation in Alberta coincided precisely with our media launch) in an already economically depressed city made it hard to even get people’s attention in the first place.

Which all makes sense and is an easy soundbite: it was a timing thing. What comes up for me, though, when I read this neat explanation is how much I want to comfort myself that it wasn’t my fault as a leader: there was an external situation that was out of our hands, or something else that wasn’t me.

Maybe this is true and maybe it’s not the point: the thing that I go back to from a leadership perspective is 1) what can I learn from this? and 2) how can I best honour and support everyone who I brought along for the ride with me to this point? Oh: and not to get so caught up in the explanation part that I forget to let myself simply mourn it, without the analytic noise.

The other thing that this type of explanation does is obscure the larger story of the countless hours spent by Madeline and her team putting it all together: the venue, the speakers, the marketing outreach: it’s a truly massive undertaking. I can let go of what this all means to me personally, however what will take me longer is coming to terms with the investment of their time and energy. What feels key to me at this point is to find the story that will honour the truth of everything that has gone into this, not only to do the team justice, but also to keep the door open for the next chapter. The concept of failure is so final, so done. And we are so not done.

The thinking at this point is to reschedule the event to sometime in 2017, at which point we will harvest this long-growing crop of awesome. In the meantime, we have enjoyed a huge outpouring of support from everyone involved. Here’s one example: “Madeline’s hard work so far will only help G Day Calgary to be bigger, badder, and stronger in 2017!”

Cheers to failure, success and acknowledging the vast complexity of everything else. See you in Calgary 😉


  1. Madeline says:

    Thank you Madeleine for listening to yourself, and listening to the universe and trusting that decisions – no matter what they are, are always a step forwards.
    This journey is one I can’t imagine being on with anyone but you, and the doubts that swirl around when the wound is fresh just won’t hold up to the possibilities that come from the healing.
    You said to me yesterday that we are ALL leaders, we are ALL creative, and we are ALL just trying every single day to SHOW UP and make an impact for the communities that we care about. Okay – so… we’re going to give one of these communities a few more months to heal from some pretty serious trauma – and THEN we will make our mark on the community of Calgary.
    Our presenters, sponsors and volunteers have been overwhelmed with disappointment but yet support, and I think it makes our decision easier to digest knowing that it really was right. It was right for the Province, it was right for our distracted Champions and therefore, it’s right for our girls. If I’ve learned anything in 24 hours, it’s that at first, this perceived “failure” seemed so complex, so daunting and so negative – but that really while the logistics of this might be complex, the reality of making the right call was surprisingly simple.
    I’m not worried about moving this event – or sorting out how we can ALL be better leaders, I worry about the chances we would have missed if we didn’t even try! Today has not only been filled with support and positivity, but new connections, new sprouts coming out of the dirt and the NEW Calgary G Day is already taking shape.

    Stop letting those gremlins into your internal conversation. We’re all exactly where we’re supposed to be, and we’re right on time.

  2. Rachel Starkey says:

    My thoughts are with you Madeleine. I have been there. Grieve. Allow yourself to cry. I will share a personal video I took … it was a hard day in Kenya …

    These are the moments “behind the scenes” of true greatness. Realising that you have done all that you can, but it is still not enough, you are still a broken earthen vessel.

    May Somehow … this WABI SABI be fused together with the purest gold.

  3. Susie says:

    I was wondering what might have gotten in the way of G Day Calgary when I learned of its postponement, and now I know–it was many things, none of which had anything to do with you and your amazing team! You know the need and opportunity exist for G Day, and I know you and your team can deliver an amazing experience (case in point: G Day Vancouver 2015!) This is such an honest and insightful post and your points about leadership really resonate. I’d like to share one more point about leadership–your leadership–and how rare and refreshing such authentic leadership really is. True leadership takes tons of courage and the willingness to have honest conversations; it transcends the person and isn’t about success or failure, so much as about making the toughest decisions, i.e. the best decision possible after considering all the facts, impacts and circumstances. Kudos to you and your team for all of the awareness, interest, partnerships, sponsorships and momentum you’ve generated in Calgary–an amazing city that will welcome you back with open arms in 2017–bigger and better than ever!

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