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Enough is Enough
Introducing A Summer of Failure
Perhaps you, like my partner Kha and me, have been binging on season 2 of The Bear. If you’re not, no real spoilers ahead. All you need to know is that this season sees the scrappy group working to transform sandwich joint The Beef into an upscale restaurant, The Bear, but with all the same chaos and yelling that we white knuckled our way through in the first season.
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Early in the season there’s a scene where we watch Sydney doomscrolling through a cascade of restaurant closure news. Sydney, more than anyone, seems more finely attuned to the chaos the group co-creates and thus becomes our emotional proxy for the risks and anxieties of opening a new restaurant.
As she scrolls, we can feel the thoughts racing through her head:
Why the f- are we opening a restaurant right now? Is it even possible? Are we doomed? Shit. Shit. Shit.
As I have been thinking deeply about queering failure these pasts months, obviously there’s been a lot of background upheaval in certain business sectors. Sure, tech layoffs, but I’m more thinking about closures and exhaustion in small businesses in the “real world”. That doomscroll of restaurant closures felt very, very real.
At least one owner I know summed it up recently:
“Is there anyone who is actually making it right now?!?”
If you’re looking around panicked that your business might go under soon and no one has told you…relax, there’s no sneak attack coming. But also, it’s very hard to tell what’s actually happening behind the scenes/instagram veneer of most businesses.
In last week’s piece on Queer Failure, I explored moving beyond the binary of winners and losers, and quoted Jack Halberstam’s celebration of failure:
“Losers leave no records while winners cannot stop talking about it.”
So this summer we’re going to muck about in the unrecorded stories of failure.
Welcome to Enough is Enough: A Summer of Failure.
A Sneak Peek of some of what’s on the way:
My thoughts on what kinds of businesses we’ve designed our economy to suppor— and the kinds it doesn’t support— and what that means for us all. What if we’re thinking about individual failure all wrong?
I’m going to talk to Heather Thomason, who just closed her business Primal Supply Meats this Spring after 7 years.
And I’m very excited to introduce the first Whiskey Fridays episode, a podcast I’m starting with my friend and colleague John Gerber of Unlawyer to talk shop. For this first edition we’re going to discuss business closures. Between the two of us, John and I have worked with some thousands of businesses, so expect nerding out, but with alcohol involved.
I want to state for the record, before we go any further, that I am so not the authority on failure. No, not because I’m innately successful. And definitely not because I’m a queer person that innately understands this topic (that’s…not a thing).
What I’ve come to know is that too much success comes from one of two things: domination or risk aversion. Or to put another way:
The opposite of failure isn’t success, it’s control.
I still remember my blinkered self sitting on my old therapist’s couch years ago while she gently asked me about failing. When was the last time I really failed? I almost didn’t understand the question.
I grew up in a chaotic household where, while materially cared for, I hard-coded self-reliance into my young self. I didn’t believe I had a posse to back me up, and so I navigated the world as if I’d need to always have my own back. Yes, this translates into engineering an awful lot of self control. Failure for me felt particularly risky; without perceiving a posse, I expended an awful lot of energy on having my own back.
Maybe you relate to something in this story, maybe you have a different narrative with a similar outcome. It’s not unusual for entrepreneurs to have a self-reliant streak, however we came by it.
I share this, because one of the threads I’ve been tugging on is the question of what, exactly, do we have control of?
The cultural narrative we’re steeped in tells us that success and failure are individual outcomes.
I worked hard enough and smart enough: I succeeded.
I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, disciplined enough: I failed.
I want to suggest instead, and explore as we move through this “thematic unit”, that we do not have complete control of the outcomes.
We exist in environments and an economy that mean that whether we make it or not, whether and what risks we can take are not totally within our control.
Which kinds of businesses do we want to sustain? What kinds of labor conditions can a business support? Who gets the deck stacked in their favor, and who gets walls, ceilings, and other barriers?
These are systemic questions that we treat as individual choices.
Naming systemic issues isn’t the same as saying that we’re at the mercy of forces beyond our grasp or that we’re subject to unchangeable laws of nature. It’s a way of pointing to where we must point our interventions.
So…all that said, welcome to the summer of failure.
👉 Thanks so much for reading. Care to share with a friend?
My overly-simplified one sentence take is that those are about corporations shedding an earlier hiring largess and clawing back power from labor/workers.
Monopolization (which the United States economy is rife with…) is both a form of risk mitigation and domination. If you’re, say, American Airlines, buying up smaller competitors ensures that customers have fewer options to go somewhere else. This translates to more control via market domination, which means less risk (ie, less uncertainty) of profits. Risk avoidance via market domination is kind of a classic neoliberal economic move.