Setting Yourself Up for Success and Leveraging Failure

Hand painted shoes before and after

A perhaps failed attempt to paint a new pair of shoes, made me consider how we can have better experiences when launching a product/project/service. I bought these shoes in Brazil. They didn’t have the color I wanted, and I thought it was a good idea to buy the white one and make it into a painting project. First, I imagined drawing a bunch of flowers on each of them. Then, I started thinking that it would be too difficult and got a new idea to paint the sun on one shoe and the moon on the other. I went to the arts and crafts store and bought fabric ink as per an artist friend’s advice. They only had one option, a box with blue, red, yellow and black colors, and I bought it. On my way home I realized that I needed white to draw the moon. Instead of having to wait until I found another store that had it, or ordering it online and having to wait for shipment, I decided to change the original plan a bit. I kept the idea to paint the sun on one shoe, and decided to draw a flower on the other.

When I finished the first part of the first shoe, I wondered what I was thinking or doing. Would I ever wear those shoes? After mixing blue and yellow to paint the other shoe, I moved forward with it. At this point, I started laughing out loud. The inner voice had so much fun stuff to say: You are crazy! You don’t know what you are doing. You can’t wear these shoes to work, or ever. You are crazy (yep, this one was persistent). You didn’t think this through. What clothes would you wear them with? I kept laughing and painting because there was no going back at this point.

I started thinking about what worked, what didn’t, what I could have done differently, or how I could have planned and executed my idea better. Here are some of the lessons learned that can be applied in business:

Test it first – I could have taken some time to draw different options on paper, and seeing if it would make sense to paint the shoes that way. When considering launching a product, test it in advance, and keep testing until you are satisfied.

Make a list of all that is needed – I think that if I had followed through with my idea of drawing the sun and the moon, my shoes would seem less crazy. Use the testing period to fine tune what’s needed for your project/product/service before the major launch.

Ask for help – I reached out to two friends who are artists, whom I knew had experience painting in fabric, and that helped me to buy the right ink. When launching something new, that you are unsure about, or don’t feel like you have all the skills needed, reach out to someone who knows.

Consider your resources – The shoes could probably have been a nicer addition to my closet if I had taken in consideration what color shoes I actually needed, and how to make them work with my clothes. Before investing additional funds in your project, consider all the resources you have available to you, and how you can best utilize them.

Think of the end results desired – I was more interested in painting something that would make me happy, than painting something that made fashion sense. Before starting your project, take in consideration your ultimate goals, and plan accordingly.

Spin it in a new way – Although I didn’t think this through, and I may look ridiculous while wearing this “pair” of shoes, I decided that I will wear them as work of art, my art. If your project doesn’t happen exactly as planned, could you repurpose what you’ve got, find new uses for it?

Be aware of your investment and the risks and rewards – I spent less than $15 on the pair of shoes, and got the fabric ink for half off. Perhaps we could say that I was testing it, and failed, but it wasn’t too costly. Make sure to take in consideration the amount of investment needed for every step of the testing and launching process.

Enjoy the process – I obviously didn’t think it through, but it was so much fun. How can you make the testing process fun?

Be aware of the voices within – I chose to laugh at myself and my inner voices since this was a joyful moment for me. In business the inner voices can be paralyzing, make sure to acknowledge them, consider if it’s true, and then move on.

Learn the lessons – If I ever paint a pair of shoes again, I’ll make at least the base color the same, or somehow make it look like a pair of shoes. Whatever failure you’ve had or are currently experiencing, learn the lessons.

Be authentic and know your truth – I can imagine the looks I may get if/when I wear those shoes. It won’t bother me. I’ll wear them proudly, as a reminder that I did it myself, that I messed up, that I learned my lesson, that I’m doing my thing, and that I’m sure we can’t please everyone. If you are wondering if your project will be accepted, make sure first and foremost that YOU accept it whole heartedly and reach out to those who will feel the same way.

If you see me wearing these shoes one day, please be kind. And in my defense, could you tell that I was trying to create the sky and garden? Somehow, it made sense in my mind. I know I didn’t execute it properly, though. Thankfully, this wasn’t a custom order and I am the one who will wear them.


Elisa Balabram

5 Responses to “Setting Yourself Up for Success and Leveraging Failure”

  1. Diana Says:

    Wonderful, Elisa!

  2. Elisa Balabram Elisa Balabram Says:

    Thank you, Diana!

  3. Stella Chiu Says:

    Hi Elisa

    First, I would like to know what does “Namaste” mean?

    It is so fantastic that this DIY art project can produce some marketing strategy.

    Out of those points, Planning and be ware risks and reward. I did some business ventures before blogging. I failed mostly I did not have concrete plan and don’t know the risk involved.

    I believe I can implement some of them in the blogging ventures.

    Have nice evening!

  4. Elisa Balabram Elisa Balabram Says:

    Hi Stella,
    Namaste is a Hindu greeting – In Hinduism it means “I bow to the divine in you”.
    Failing in business leaves great lessons to be applied in future businesses. I do encourage anyone thinking of starting a business, to test their idea, come up with the business model, then work on a plan as you mentioned.
    Thank you for your comment and all the best with your blog,

  5. Don't be afraid to paint your own shoes. To be authentic. Says:

    […] During the last class of the spring semester, I told the students “don’t be afraid to paint your own shoes”. Many of the students were graduating then, or will by the end of the year. It was my way of encouraging them to be authentic, to keep learning, to continue growing and pursuing their chosen careers and passions, and to be themselves. I was wearing the shoes I painted last year, and wrote about here. […]

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