My first (BIG) screw up

September 29, 2017 by NJPainter

Well, I lived through my first big screw up.
An inevitable mile-marker along the road of starting a business, I know.

It was a custom wedding jacket. I was supposed to write the bride’s new last name on the back.

I practiced.
I measured.
I chalked out the lines.
I started painting and well, I screwed it up.
It was denim. AKA, it was irreversible.

I felt terrible.
Genuinely, wholly, utterly, thoroughly terrible.
I cried (really!)
I said truly un-kind, self-destructive things to myself in my head.
I felt the “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING”s and the “WHY DID I THINK I WAS GOOD AT THIS”s start to creep in.
I frantically texted Barry (what he was going to do about it, I don’t know!)
I found an identical jacket online and immediately ordered it so I could offer her a replacement.
I paced the apartment.
And then; I wrote an apology.

It was honest and transparent and (hopefully) authentic.

And thank goodness: the world sent me a really understanding customer.
“Don’t worry, these things happen,” she said.


So I fixed it and refunded her and she loved the re-do better than the original concept and now of course the whole thing is very silly.

But the lessons are these:
1. Tell the truth. People are more understanding than we might anticipate. (And then be explicit in your gratefulness).

2. Find your community, because they will come to your rescue in these moments.
“It’s not an adventure if you don’t fuck up majorly once in awhile,” an ex-coworker said. “Small business is extreme highs the lowest lows. You can just hope to live somewhere in that middle zone. BUT… there’s power and strength in the ownership of these emotions,” said the owner of one of my favorite local businesses. These are the people who will normalize something that feels completely devastating and lonely. It flipped my entire perspective.

3. In the end, I realized I’d stepped right into the spot I had asked to be in all along.
What I hated about publicity was that I was responsible for someone else’s beliefs and work. What I wanted out of my own business was that everything – the good, bad and ugly – would be mine. And boy was it handed to me. I’m not grateful for screwing up… but I am grateful that I get to do this and that screwing up led me deeper into being a person who owns a business and is familiar with its peaks and pitfalls. A person who, a year ago, sitting at a desk job that I hated, I would have killed to be. I’d rather be answering for my own mistakes than somebody else’s any day of the week. For that, I am so very, very grateful.


For the record: the replacement jacket turned up in the wrong size. Jerks.