Here is the full transcript of Singer-songwriter Cristel Carrisi’s TEDx Talk: Own Your Mistakes at TEDxZagreb conference.
So, it’s hard to talk about failure, isn’t it? It’s probably one of the most uncomfortable topics that you could bring up. No one likes to admit to them, and yet, it’s the most relatable topic.
Everyone in this room has failed at something at some point. There is the little things, like failing an exam, or a driver’s test, a diet regime, and then there is the big things that touch us all in life, like the failure to keep a family together, getting fired, failure to keep sober, or to raise a child properly.
I’m half American and half Italian, and in the United States, failure is something that’s talked about. It’s accepted; it’s woven into the fabric of social experiences. So it’s something that even, at times, is glorified, yet it’s still really only cool to talk about failure from a point of success or power.
I, however, grew up in Italy, and Italy is a country where failure is an absolute stigma. It’s embarrassing; it’s shameful; it’s taboo. There’s also the constant threat of the “brutta figura,” which means, in Italian, to lose face or to look bad, because we think that failure makes you look bad, in Italy and in many other countries too. In my particular case, this was a little more exasperated by the fact that I grew up in the public eye.
My parents are known singers in Italy, and ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been subjected to public judgment and mass media. And so, growing up in a country where brutta figura is supposed to be avoided at all costs, growing up and keeping up appearances hasn’t always been that easy of a task.
I’ve been in the entertainment industry ever since I can remember, and I’ve always felt within me the need to do something though, for myself. I still today work for Italian television, but I wanted to do something entrepreneurial, but I wouldn’t let the fear of failure get in the way of doing something new. And I shouldn’t then let the shame of failure eventually get in the way of learning a valuable lesson.
So when I was 24, I founded my first company, my fashion brand, my swimwear brand. And I put seven years of blood, sweat, and tears into this company. I worked so hard, I truly gave it my all, until one day, I found myself sitting at the desk of my accountant crying and whining because he was telling me that it was time to close down my company. It just wasn’t making financial sense to keep it open anymore. And I was just looking at him like, “You’re crazy, how can I close down. This is so embarrassing, this brutta figura, it’s so shameful. What are people going to say, what are people going to think?”
And he looked at me exasperated because, honestly, this was not the first time we were having this conversation. It was probably our fifth. I just couldn’t admit failure. I couldn’t admit to the shame that I thought that failure was wrapped in. But he finally looked at me, and he said something to me that really resonated with me, and it eventually freed me.
He said to stop focusing so much on the end result, on the fact that I had to close down my company, but to give myself the right amount of credit for all the amazing work that I had put in over these seven years and all the accomplishments that I had achieved. And he was right; he had seen it all. I mean, I had started this company with nothing but my few savings.
My first fashion show was in my backyard – well actually, was my dad’s backyard – and I had to beg him to let me use the space for it. Because I had to have my first fashion show in it.
So this was me in 2011, carrying rocks from one side of the runway to the other, just hours before the guests and all the press had arrived. And when they finally did arrive, it had just poured down rain over the entire catwalk and on the bales of hay that I had put for people to sit on, and even, finally, on the towels that I had put over those bales of hay, everything was completely soaking wet, and nobody wanted to sit down and let the fashion show begin.
When finally I did convince them to sit down, the models were completely unprofessional, because at that point, my company couldn’t afford professional models. It was a half disaster if not a total disaster. Over those seven years, however, I managed to grow my brand into a recognizable and reputable brand.
I worked with incredible photographers, influencers, and models all over the world. I shot my campaigns all over the world, from California to Thailand, where I ended up shooting my last campaign. I received thousands of emails of happy, happy clients, who would write to me how happy they were with their product. In the end, we think that failure – Or at least, we hear so much how failure should be inspiring. I was so fixated on the fact that I had to close down my company that I had wiped away all these years of hard work and accomplishments.
Failure can be inspiring and can lead to bigger and better things, but nobody really talks about that process of how do you get there: How do you get through a failure, how do you own it? So I’ve put together a basic guideline, of three basic guidelines, of how you can get through a failure and own up to one so that you can fail a little more elegantly than I have. And these, in my case, it’s in work, in my company, but it can be applicable to anything, whether it’s a relationship, or whatever personal issue that you’re struggling with or failing at.
Number one: be responsible. I know how boring it sounds, but trust me, I’m going to try to make it interesting. When we make a mistake or when things go awfully wrong, our first instinct is, usually, to blame somebody else and not take full responsibility. I see this happen a lot in relationships, but not taking the blame doesn’t make us look any cooler, it just either makes us look like cowards, or it makes us look like we’re in total denial.
As much as I really wanted to blame the Italian tax system for being the reason why I had to close my company down, I’m not going to do that; I’m still trying not to do that. But if you’re not going to make a mistake and finally admit to it and understand how and where you made the mistake, then what’s the point in failing at all? I am who I am and where I am today thanks to the consequences of my choices and my choices only, nobody else’s. And if we’re going to be responsible for our goals, our ideals, and our dreams, we’re going to have to be responsible for our failures so that one day we can truly be responsible for our successes.
Number two: focus on you. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted worrying about what other people thought of me, and when I’m not thinking about what other people are thinking about me, I’m comparing my life to other people’s. In our generation, especially, we’re constantly bombarded and flooded by images of completely unrealistic lifestyles on social media. My life looks incredible on Instagram, and I promise you, it’s completely far from it. I have normal ups and downs, just like everybody else’s, I just choose not to show it on social media I promise you, I didn’t take a selfie and post it the day that I was crying on my accountant’s desk.
I did, however, take a selfie one day when I was walking home it started pouring down rain on me, I was carrying these heavy bottles of water alone until I finally got in front of my house, and I was locked outside. So I’m under the pouring rain with my bottles of water, locked out of my house, but you know what I posted at that moment? I posted this picture. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on you, focus on the quality of your hard work and on your journey. Do not waste your time looking at what other people are doing, because it’s not reality.
Number three is balance. I had to find the balance within me where I was judging myself so harshly that I felt like a loser, but I wasn’t recognizing all my hard work and accomplishments. But I also had to take the right amount of responsibility and understand how and where I went wrong. I had to find that balance and meet myself in the middle because only through balance you truly get clarity, and only through clarity do you really understand where the message is and you learn something. I was someone that was obsessed with the idea of success.
But success is not some magical land at the end of the rainbow, in the same way that failure isn’t black and white. Life is truly 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. Yes, failure can be inspiring. Yes, it can lead us to bigger and better things, but the only true way we get there is if we learn something and if we own up to our failures. Thank you.