Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Jen Adrion and Omar Noory On…Celebrating Failure

Jen Adrion and Omar Noory ImagePhoto: Courtesy of These Are Things

This post is part of the Q&A series, “Artists & Changemakers On…,” where artists, creative entrepreneurs and social change agents share their thoughts on each month’s blog theme. Today I’m thrilled to have the illustration duo Jen Adrion and Omar Noory share their thoughts on celebrating failure.

I first came across the work of Jen Adrion and Omar Noory, the creative duo behind the paper goods and brand illustration studio These Are Things, while at the entrepreneurship conference Pioneer Nation. The two were keynote speakers sharing the evolution of their company, which delivers travel themed art to customers and retailers in all 50 states and over 40 countries. Jen and Omar have grown their business to the point where they work with major brands like AFAR, Airbnb, American Greetings, HOW and Southwest Airlines. Luckily, they didn’t shy away from discussing their growing pains during their talk. Hearing that they had endured stumbling blocks and, dare we say, failures was a breath of fresh air. It was great to know that, despite any setbacks, they continued to fight for their creative dreams and were willing to examine missteps to glean lessons for the future.

Encouraged by Jen and Omar’s story, I immediately thought of them when I decided to devote the blog to failure this month (wait…did that come out right?) I invited them to share their thoughts on failure within the context of their work, and here’s what they had to say.

What role does failure play in your creative work?

J: Failure is an essential part of any work, and I feel like this is especially true for creative endeavors. It’s a natural part of the creative process.

O: If you really are doing anything worthwhile, you’re going to stumble as you’re learning and growing. Failure is such an intrinsic part of our everyday life that we don’t even notice it anymore. It actually feels strange if we aren’t failing because that means we aren’t pushing ourselves or trying anything new.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned on failure?

J: Everyone fails, whether they choose to share it or not. Everyone. No exceptions. It’s just a natural part of life. All great successes are built on a mountain of failures, so learning to embrace failure is the quickest way to rack up more successes.

Have you ever celebrated one of your failures? What happened and why was that failure a good thing?

J: Very publicly, actually. In 2013, we fulfilled a longtime goal and moved from our home state of Ohio to a beautiful apartment in NYC. It took us years to build up the courage to make the move, and once we finally did, we were so happy. But a few months into the experience, we realized that we were in over our heads. Our business, which was still running out of a warehouse back in Ohio, was running into problems without us there to oversee it. So, we made the difficult decision to bail out of New York after only eight months.

O: The worst part is that we were scheduled to speak at a conference in Cleveland two weeks before we moved back. It was our first big speaking gig as These Are Things. The timing was terrible. Neither of us felt comfortable getting on stage and talking about our “success” when we were in the middle of what felt like a crushing defeat.

J: So, we got on stage in front of a few hundred people and told our story, including all of the many ups and downs we’ve experienced as we built our careers as illustrators. You can watch the talk here. It was a terrifying experience, but today it remains one of the best things we’ve ever done as These Are Things. People really connected with our talk and we left the stage feeling like we’d been honest about our journey.

What do you think keeps people from talking openly about failure?

J: I think it comes down to a fear of being judged. There’s a lot of pressure to make it seem like everything is 100 percent perfect all the time. Especially with social media – who isn’t intimidated by a perfectly curated Instagram feed? When all we see is perfection, it makes us feel like we’re the only ones experiencing failure, which isn’t true at all. If you can change your perspective and view failure as a sign of growth and progress, it becomes much easier to speak freely about your own experiences in a real, authentic way.

What advice on failure would you give other artists & changemakers?

O: Failure is not a permanent place. It’s never as absolute or final as it may seem. While a failure may feel disastrous in the moment, in reality, there aren’t many failures that you can’t walk away from. You learn something and you move on, stronger and smarter than ever.

Thanks Jen and Omar for sharing your story! Get more advice from Jen Adrion and Omar Noory in their new e­book, “Designed To Sell: The Unconventional Guide to Creative Freedom,” which provides a proven step-by-step plan for building your own successful creative business. And be sure to follow These Are Things on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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