He went out of his way to make sure the event’s theme was ever-present: He served wonky-looking cookies & urged guests to fill out their name tags wrong (by misspelling their names, for example). The space was decorated with giant crumpled up legal pad pages—the perfect embodiment of frustration.
Montague admits he was nervous about how it would go. “I had a whole bunch of shame around things that didn’t go well for me, even shame around holding the event, like somehow I was going to be advocating for mediocrity,” he says. Fortunately, though, the participants didn’t see the fail-a-bration as such: “I saw each of the speakers’ postures change” as they shared, he says. “That’s what all my work is about—letting people know you don’t have to do anything to be extra lovable, & I’m glad you’re here.”
Montague says that the “fails” people brought to share were all over the map. One participant talked about financial struggles, while another talked about an audition for a comedy role that just didn’t go right. “She shared this humiliating story of an audition that was so bad it is now referenced as ‘This is how you don’t do an audition,’” Montague says. “I felt every bit of the cringe that she felt, but I felt connection too. Like, ‘Oh, good, I’m not alone.’”
He wasn’t the only one affected by people’s vulnerability that day: “Grown men & women were crying, & it was out of joy & out of freedom & out of this shared experience we got to have together.” After the event, he says, a fourth grade teacher who’d attended decided to try a version of it with her students. “That’s so exciting: to create space for you to recognize that it’s okay to mess up & to reimagine & reframe—& to have somebody who’s guiding you through how to grow,” he says, adding that the gathering seemed to be particularly helpful to those who work in the arts. “There’s so many things—creative risks—that just don’t work. They don’t click with an audience, or the execution of it isn’t the full vision, & you can become completely overwhelmed by dashed dreams,” he explains.
And the event did more than provide encouragement—it was also a reminder of what failure st&s for. Montague says that one participant told him that hearing other people share their failures opened her eyes to the fact that she wasn’t taking as many risks as she wants to. “She realized she had played it safe her whole life & had never stepped out & tried something that could have made her vulnerable to things not working out,” he says. “That was really cool to know there’s different ways it can mean something to people.”
Montague says he hopes the concept catches on, & that people everywhere start throwing their fail-a-brations. If you’re thinking this sounds like a great idea to try with your coworkers, roommates, or even friends, consider these guardrails that Montague established for his own gathering:
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