by Angela Tsai
Failure is kinda awesome.
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It takes some audacity for an artistic yet Type-A person like me to utter the words above. It requires even more cojones to tell you why, because I’m about to let you in on my biggest failure to date. It ain’t pretty. It’s actually quite terrifying for me to talk about — but what’s come through on the other side is nothing short of wondrous. I am the woman, mama and creative entrepreneur I am today because of this failure.
Up until the moment I got hired to be the sideline reporter for The Sacramento Kings, I had not one single minute of live TV experience under my belt. So how the heck did I manage to land the job? The owners of the team at the time, Joe and Gavin Maloof, had seen me do TV work in another capacity for the NBA, and believed I’d be great in the live reporting role. They pushed for me, and it was hard to say no. I didn’t want to let them down. Besides, only a handful of people are lucky enough to step into these coveted broadcasting roles, and the paycheck was more money than I had seen in my decade of smaller television hosting gigs in New York City and Philly. So I said yes, thinking that I would just learn as I went along. How hard could it be, right? I signed a two-year contract, moved across the country by myself, away from my new husband and our Brooklyn home.
It was a disaster.
I arrived at the start of the NBA pre-season, and was expected to hit the ground running. My learning curve for live TV was steep and unforgiving. No one mentored me, so I fumbled along, trying to stay out of people’s way. Once that red light flashed on above the camera lens, I’d freeze. I wasn’t confident in my basketball knowledge, and it showed. I had anxiety attacks. My one-take “hits” during the live game made me stammer. My previous TV work showed me at my best when interviewing others, riffing off someone else; sideline reporting was a lonely island, as I reported on things that at my core felt gratuitous.
The Kings fans’ message boards and blogs raged against me, and the bullying got pretty personal (ahhh, the anonymity of the internet!). Some wrote about my stupidity; of course, some wrote about my appearance. Some fans said they hated me. It was my worst nightmare — suddenly, I was not only unable to please everyone, I was actually displeasing a few very vocal ones. In an industry where your worth is manufactured by your public likeability meter, I was a goner. My lowest point came when I overheard my own producer call me a [expletive + pejorative name for a mentally disabled person], thinking I was out of earshot. One of my fellow broadcasters, the amazing Jim Kozimor, tried to support me by telling me that since the team’s season was in the toilet, the fans were looking for anyone to scapegoat, and I happened to be the easy target. It sort of made me feel better, but it didn’t make the horrible words hurt any less.
So uh, why was this failure so awesome, you ask?
1) FAILURE MADE ME FIGURE OUT WHO I AM.
Here’s the thing: I had tried to be someone I wasn’t, and it came back to bite me.
Let me just clarify – this certainly was an extreme, public failure; even though I had years of fantastic television hosting experience under my belt, I allowed these two seasons with the Kings to pulverize me. The joy that I felt doing my previous TV gigs was gone. It took me a while, but I came to realize that those years in Sacramento were so very crucial because I learned so much about myself.
I know now what I will and won’t put up with. I know now what I can and cannot do. I understand my limits and need to be realistic in my abilities. I know now that I should ask for help if I need it, and that doing so isn’t a sign of weakness, but of initiative and self-preservation. I realized that I don’t have thick skin, and I probably never will — but that’s okay. I learned that I need to be my own boss, and not rely on the opinions of strangers to evaluate my worth. I learned to not take myself so seriously and find my laughter again. I learned that I need a support network of like-minded, creative, funny and empathetic people in order to flourish. No more lonely islands for me.
I had to let go of who I felt I was supposed be in order to be true to who I really am.
2) FAILURE MADE ME TAKE CARE OF MYSELF.
Sure, being in front of the camera takes confidence, but that can be said about any job. And confidence is built on a rock solid foundation of health — physical, mental, emotional. It was only when I dedicated the time to work out, eat better, talk through my frustrations and make time for myself that my confidence snuck back in. Now as a mama, to be fully present and patient for my family means making sure I find time for myself. Period.
3) FAILURE MAKES ME GRATEFUL FOR WHAT I HAVE.
I can’t say I had a successful live broadcasting career; but I can say that I continued to work in TV after my time in Sacramento, in a format that I loved and thrived in. I can’t say that I’m an expert in the NBA, but I can give you fantastic insider advice on how to book the best vacation rentals and travel around the country with kids. My life feels full (and often hectic and chaotic) as a mama, and I am so grateful to be able to build a business that I truly believe in, with the support of my husband, friends and family. There is so much love heaped on me that it’s ridiculous, and I must remind myself each and every morning to give it right back.
4) FAILURE HAS TAUGHT ME IT’S OKAY TO BE VULNERABLE.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone; in fact, building a business is downright frightening, particularly while juggling full-time travel and parenthood. But I’m putting myself out there again. I’m showing up. My “failed” time in Sacramento gave me the courage to embrace my real creative strengths, and I’ve designed the most versatile accessory for new mamas like me. I’m confident that I’ve created something not only necessary and functional, but beautiful, too. There is no guarantee that my Mamachic scarves will be universally embraced, but I’m okay with that uncertainty. I’m in front of a live audience again — and I know that I’m doing the best I can. And right now, that’s enough.
Angela Tsai is the founder and designer of the Mamachic, a beautiful all-in-one scarf for new moms (and really anyone who wants to look awesome). She has designed websites for David Bowie and Moby, interviewed hundreds of athletes, celebrities and funny everyday folks as a TV host and reporter, and currently tours the country full-time with her kids Max (4), Eva (1) and husband, actor Mike Hollick, who works with The Lion King. You can read about their road misadventures at 4 For The Road, and be the first to get a limited edition Mamachic by signing up here.