On Failure

by Kori Crockett Cofounder / CEO


I’m a recovering perfectionist. Talking about failure is new to me, but now that I’ve started I can’t stop. 

Like me, I think a lot of people who are the first in their family to go to college or grew up in a limited-income setting interpret a failure they experience as something inherently wrong with them. The failure happened because they are not “enough” in some way; not smart enough, not capable enough, not hard-working enough, not well-spoken enough, etc. Then we tell ourselves that failures like this don’t happen to people who are “enough;” smart, rich, well-educated, well-dressed, happy, etc.

Nothing has more powerfully and clearly reframed failure for me than these two videos from SpaceX. 

This first video shows a perfect landing of a rocket booster after it dropped back to earth from its spaceship:

It’s so perfect it’s almost unreal!! When I watched it for the first time, I thought, “Wow, that must have taken a ton of planning and engineering, but they pulled it off without a hitch!” I assumed that all of their landings looked like that from day one and felt in awe of the intelligent folks on the SpaceX team. 

Then I clicked on the next video:

“How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster.” It was a compilation of crash landings and explosions from 2013 to 2016 set to lively orchestral music. SpaceX turned three years of failures into a cute video! What could have been a source of embarrassment was embraced as progress. 

The SpaceX team understood each crash landing was one step closer to Mars, not a reflection of their ability or worth as scientists and engineers. At the bottom of the video they even wrote: “It’s not an explosion. It’s just a rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

To all of my students and Propeller Collective Community members:

The next time you experience a failure, I want you to remember: Failure is not about your worthiness. It’s just a moment in time when things didn’t go how you thought they would.

To all of our supporters: 

I want you to know how important failure is to our work. We’re going to fail many times on this journey, but that’s the only way we’ll make it to Mars.

Week of June 24, 2019 in Summary 

Big progress made this week: We opened a bank account! We’re glad to be working with a bank local to Chicago.

Failure of the week: Nothing… yet :D

Organizational updates: We’re building out a First Gen Working Board for 2019-20! We’re putting together a team of young professionals from first gen and limited-income backgrounds to focus on online content, outreach, and fundraising. Know anyone who might be interested? Email me.

Current challenge: Still thinking through how we can best frame our why. How can we define the problem we tackle and our theory of change in a short, accessible way? Especially for non-first-gens.

Grateful for: Finding the Nonprofit Leadership Lab by Joan Garry! Joan and her team offer a comprehensive online education for leaders of small nonprofits. The classes, articles, and chats covers many, many things I need to learn about leading an organization, including finances, strategy, communication, and more. I joined their Fundraising Bootcamp, which runs throughout the month of July. It’ll cover organizing donor data, refining an elevator pitch, donor stewardship, making the ask, and setting up a 90-day plan. Really looking forward to more guidance in this area.


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