Epic fails and lessons in writing from the school of hard knocks

Mark Zuckerberg

This week, on the 14th anniversary of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg shared a posted about his failures. He wrote, “Over the years I’ve made almost every mistake you can imagine. I’ve made dozens of technical errors and bad deals. I’ve trusted the wrong people and I’ve put talented people in the wrong roles. I’ve missed important trends and I’ve been slow to others. I’ve launched product after product that failed.”

There are many days when I feel like an epic failure as a writer (or mother, or wife for that matter). The other day I read something I wrote a year ago. It was crap.

Writing for someone else’s voice is probably one of the hardest things for a writer to do. I need to do this a lot in my work. Here are some of my epic failures in writing over the course of my career.

  • Assuming someone’s spoken voice is the same as their written voice. I worked with one leader who was personable, funny and engaging in person, but whose written prose was formal and stilted.
  • Creating a narrative that wasn’t the narrative of the person giving the presentation. I prepared a presentation once for a leader and weaved a theme through it that I thought would resonate with the audience, using references to popular culture. It fell flat because it was my narrative, not their narrative.
  • Not using enough stories in my writing and not digging harder to find stories. Everyone has a story.
  • Slipping into corporate puffery. If something I’ve written sounds like a company wrote it, not a person, I’ve failed at my job, and I have.
  • Being too wordy.
  • Not being able to convince people to use clear language; people will often default to language they are used to or think others want to hear.

Yes, I have failed miserably time and time again. But there is one thing that makes me happy. I’m in good company.

 

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Wear the same t-shirt every day

mark_zuckerbergI read an article recently where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked why he wore the same gray t-shirt every day.

His answer might surprise you. He said, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community… I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”

In a world where celebrity weddings cost millions, stylists reign supreme, and even the average person needs a walk-in closet for their clothes, we can all take a page from the Facebook founder’s philosophy.

This week’s #HappyAct is to do one thing to simplify your life so you can focus on what’s really important. And if you see me wearing the same pair of black pants every day next week, pretend you don’t notice.