I hosted an event last Saturday during Obama’s visit. It was scheduled before I heard he would be in Nairobi and the roads would be closed. So I thought, well, let’s hope for the best, and I paid for the venue and showed up and….guess how many people came?
Every speaker’s worst nightmare—the event where only one person attends.
Six months ago, when I hosted my first Fern Circle, I marketed a decent amount, then crossed my fingers that I’d get about 20 or 30 people. I got six (plus a few great friends who showed up to support me). I was crushed. Humiliated. It felt like a personal rejection: nobody wants what you have to offer, Anena. You’re lame.
I pushed through the chiding of my inner maggot; the event went great despite the small turnout; I determined to persist. The next month I marketed better and got a much better turnout, the next month better still. Until this Saturday, when I sat alone in my carefully prepared, paid-in-full conference room waiting for a crowd that never came.
The woman I was six months ago would have been, once again, crushed and humiliated. But after six months of events that had ups and downs but always went well overall, I’m no longer so hung up on the details. More importantly, I no longer take it personally if I don’t get the results I’d hoped.
So instead of groveling in shame and self-judgment for the stupidity of believing anyone would care what I have to say, I sat with Agnes, my one attendee, and we had a wonderful talk. She’d driven all the way from Machakos to attend the event! As we shared our stories, I had an aha moment—the women of Nairobi can afford to skip an event, because they know they can attend a different one instead, yet a woman will drive all the way from Machakos with road closures in effect, because she can not attend a different one. Conclusion: the women whom these Fern Circles will truly serve are outside Nairobi.
So, as Agnes and I partook of a table-full of tea and pastries, we brainstormed how to adapt the Fern Circles to outlying towns. I got so excited! I’ll look at Machakos, Thika, hell I can go all the way to Naivasha, Mombasa, everywhere. There’s no limit.
Six months ago, I would not have had that conversation with Agnes. I would have apologized to her, embarrassed, and urged her to go home, sorry for wasting her time. Instead I engaged with her, gave her the best value I could by talking about how I can bring support to her community, and came away with a whole new plan that makes me happy too.
This is new for me. The word I came up with is: “failcess.” When something doesn’t go how you wanted, when something looks on the surface like a total failure—but you show up anyway, you give it your best—and you end up generating a totally unexpected success. A success that required the so-called failure first. A failcess!
I came home happy and satisfied (with a whole lot of leftover pastries for my kids). Did I want only one person to attend my event? No way. Am I upset that only one person came? Not a bit. Because she was the perfect person. And I also got to experience myself as a new person, someone more confident and visionary, able to invite the circumstance to become whatever it could instead of insisting on only one possible outcome. I wasn’t that woman six months ago.
This is what’s so great about the female entrepreneurial journey. It’s never just about your business—underneath, every professional lesson impacts your self.
And sometimes it takes a failcess to open you to the possibility of how much further you can go.
If you’ve read this website, you know I’ve been writing a handbook for female entrepreneurs for, oh, pretty much forever.
It’s finally with the designer. Like, written. Complete. Finished. I am scheduled to begin piloting it in two schools THIS WEEK.
And then, yesterday, I was inching along Ngong Road in the Saturday-afternoon jam, and I realized it’s NOT finished. For a long time I’ve felt the book was missing….something.…but I couldn’t figure out WHAT. Yesterday, out of nowhere, it came to me. Today I spent my Sunday redrafting the format of the book, and I am thrilled with the new shape—it is stronger, simpler, and most of all, more true to ME. It clearly speaks the message of empowerment and agency that I deeply desire young women to hear.
I could wonder why it took me to this point to realize what was missing. But I’m just happy I realized at all.
Yesterday was the Fourth of July, our independence day back in the U.S. It was also day 101 since I went on my wellness diet (no caffeine, dairy, alcohol, gluten or sugar) AND broke up with my darling but not-right-for-me fiance. In the evening my neighbors and I had a bonfire with all the kids, and I sat by the fire and honored the process I’ve gone through these past three-plus months. Putting my life back together has been both excruciating and exhilarating, but the point is, it’s been PROGRESS. Instead of feeling stuck, like I did for so long.
So when I made that breakthrough yesterday with my book, it was the icing on the cake of a whole lot of new ways I’ve experienced freedom these past few months. And I don’t think that’s coincidence—I believe that removing myself from a stagnant situation, and committing to a wellness protocol I knew my body needed, shifted something foundational. It opened a path. I still don’t know exactly where it will lead. But I know my daily life runs on a comfortable schedule now, professional opportunities have begun to flow, my daughter and I are thriving—and finally I have a book that knows exactly what it wants to say.
It feels like magic. But I think it’s just the result of taking action in seemingly unrelated areas and letting the power of authenticity realign my life.
Which, for me, is a pretty satisfying version of freedom! Happy Independence Day.
Yeah, I don't actually blog anymore....
I used to blog all the time, but it was really TMI, so I finally wised up and took it down. Now I just write about life-and-business stuff, and even that is inconsistent. So lately I decided to cheat and post my newsletters here too. (You can join the newsletter list on the Home page.)