By James Victore

Volumes have been written about “How to Succeed” in business and in life. The self-help section of the bookstore brims with advice and consolation to alleviate the pain of failure. There are even weekend seminars where you can learn to avoid it all together. But no one succeeds forever. Failure is a part of life — an important and unavoidable part of life. It’s where we learn the most about ourselves, the world, and our place in it.

I don’t mean you should go out and try to fail every day (although that is an excellent goal), but you should become more familiar with risk and failure. Failure has a job to do. It pushes ideas forward and forces you to grow. The more comfortable you are with failure, the more prepared you’ll be. By embracing failure, you’ll suffer less, and your life and business will be less stressful. In Buddhist terms, the idea is called “Inviting Mara to tea.”


No one likes to fail. No one enjoys the feelings of embarrassment, the deflated ego, or the idea that your future is slowly swirling to financial ruin. I choose to own my failures. I’ve done most of the biggies: I’ve broken bones, wrecked vehicles, been arrested, gotten divorced, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. I choose to see these parts of my life less as failures and more as just living.

In running my own studio, I’ve made all the obvious mistakes: posted a website for an event without the date, asked for way too little money, forgotten to invoice, and eaten Mexican food before taking the stage. But my biggest failures came from the things I didn’t do. They stemmed from not trying. For fear of failure or even mere embarrassment, I sat inactive and watched others succeed with my ideas.

I’ve gone through periods of failure that would make most people quit. None of these events brought enlightened moments of self-discovery — except that I did not die. It never gets easier, but as an old mentor of mine used to say, “Sometimes you win; sometimes you learn.” Therein lies the lesson: Learning from failure, accepting it, and understanding it sometimes gives you a peek at success. For me, learning the hard way always seems to be the best way.


If winning is the game, then risk and failure are the strategy. It’s how you move forward. The key is to fail in the right direction. Fail bravely. Fail by taking chances, not by sitting on the fence or floating adrift on a trend. Fail by trusting your own opinion, not by asking everyone else’s. Fail by staying on your own mission and not getting derailed by another company’s success.

My job — and what brave and powerful companies pay me for — is to take chances. I take risks and head into the scary unknown again and again. I do not always go about it confidently, but I’m comfortable with the uncertainty because I know that’s where the good stuff is. The path to happiness runs directly through chaos, and the only safety net is knowing that there is no safety net.

After all my own failures, personal and professional, I’m still here. The sun still comes up. My family and clients still love me. And cake always saves the day.


June 18, 2014

Text and Video: James Victore is a renowned American art director, designer, and author. The Museum of Modern Art showcased his work in the year 2010 and 2012. Victore won several accolades for his unique contribution to graphic designing.