In Rebel Girls’ new book Dear Rebel, 145 trailblazing women share their advice for the girls of today. In this excerpt, Solveiga Pakštaitė shares that learning to fail is learning to succeed. For more incredible stories, letters, and advice, preorder Dear Rebel now.
How to fail
By Solveiga Pakštaitė
If you think about the inspiring people you know, including Rebel Girls such as Oprah Winfrey, Marie Curie, and Taylor Swift, they all did something new. I’ll tell you a secret, though: every single one of them has had failures along the way. And we don’t hear enough about that. You will fail at times in your life too. You might bomb a test, hurt a friend, or miss out on a job you wanted. That is a fact. But learning how to fail in life is actually learning how to succeed better—how to pick yourself up and grow from the experience.
Here’s my story of three types of failure I’ve had in my life, and how they got me to where I am now.
Failure to fit in
I am from Lithuania, a small forest-covered country in Europe, but I was born in Norway, a country of trolls and mountains. We moved to England, home of the queen and endless cups of tea, when I was five years old. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know any of the playground games, and my clothes looked strange.
This quickly led to name-calling, being left out, and being made fun of on a daily basis. When I was being bullied, I never imagined it was possible that I would ever be in a position of leadership. Being bullied helped me build a thick skin to bounce back, which has helped me in my career.
“Difference makes you interesting, helps bring new ideas to the table, and makes you a more vibrant person to be around.”
I don’t belong anywhere fully. In England I am the “Lithuanian girl” who had never eaten fish and chips before and who celebrates Christmas on the “wrong” day. When I finally come home to visit my friends and family in Lithuania, I am the “British girl” who doesn’t know the latest local music and who makes grammar mistakes when talking. My whole life I have felt like a misfit. Maybe you feel a little bit of that too? For so long I was uncomfortable with feeling uncomfortable—I hated not fitting in and tried everything I could to blend in.
What I’ve come to realize is that we are all misfits in some way, and this difference is what gives us our unique power. Difference makes you interesting, helps bring new ideas to the table, and makes you a more vibrant person to be around. Learning this has helped me as a designer and in running my company. The sooner you realize your differences, Rebel, the sooner you can turn them into your strengths too.
Failure as a designer
Product design is the design of objects that many copies get made of, like furniture, phones, and toasters. Most of the things you use daily have not just one, but a whole team of product designers behind them.
I decided to study product design at university because it’s all about problem-solving, whether that’s thinking about how to design products using less plastic or how to make the latest version of a TV better. The thing about product design is that whatever you do will get multiplied hundreds, thousands, or even millions of times when it gets made and sold to people all over the world. So, it’s important to get the final design as right as possible. How do we do that? Failure. Let me explain.
Product design is about failure because it’s about testing out ideas that maybe haven’t been tried before. Before we get to the final design, we make rough versions and we test, test, test. In the first few tests, we expect it to fail—maybe it doesn’t fit your hand well, or people don’t like the color. It’s important to look for how the product can fail early on so we can fix as much as possible before the final thing goes out.
It’s human nature to want to avoid failure, but if we’re afraid to fail, we’ll never try something new. Like with the products I was designing, I began seeing failures as amazing opportunities to learn and be better next time.
“It’s human nature to want to avoid failure, but if we’re afraid to fail, we’ll never try something new.”
Failure in business
One of the products I designed was a label for food that turns bumpy when the food goes bad to help everybody waste less good food. Supermarkets were interested in trying it, so I decided to start a company called Mimica to make it happen. I am still running Mimica today, and let me tell you, I’ve made many mistakes along the way.
I was totally new to business, so I would say the wrong things in important meetings, I wouldn’t know the answers to questions about money, and I didn’t always know who I should ask to help me. I learned that there are also a lot of nos when you start a business.
“Will you give me money to start my company?” No.
“Will you make my labels?” No.
“Will you buy my labels?” No.
And to turn these into yeses I started asking, Why? like I would when designing a product. These failures gave me reasons to improve the labels and the way I explained why they matter.
When I was failing at fitting in, I hated feeling uncomfortable. But by this point in my life, I am now (mostly!) comfortable with feeling uncomfortable—knowing that failure is part of the path to success.
“Redefine success and make failure a part of that journey.”
I have come to realize that confidence grows when you are able to do something well again and again and again. That means you also need to keep trying—repetition is key—and that you will fail along the way.
So when you, Rebel, do something new, know that failing is just part of it, and there’s no point comparing yourself to others. Redefine success and make failure a part of that journey.
Be courageous, be resilient, be persistent.
Solveiga Pakštaitė is a designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of Mimica, a company that makes labels that turn bumpy when food goes bad to help minimize waste.
Check out more stories of resilience in Dear Rebel, available for preorder now.