Welcome to The F Word, a newsletter about Failing, Falling, Flailing, Flying.

As this newsletter kicks off into the mouth of the internet beast, here’s a thought to ponder: youth is exciting because it is a lacking: of experience, of pain, of the sting of long-term consequence.

When we are young, we are free to dream unencumbered. We have not seen the ways in which dreams can die. We have not been introduced to that cruel mistress, that conniving saboteur: circumstance. Along comes age—if we’re lucky—and with it, despite our best efforts, failure.

Is failure intrinsic? Extrinsic? Let’s start the conversation. Is it when things do not happen the way you planned (hello, COVID)? Is it not following your intuition? Not living up to your “potential”? Is it quitting a job? Getting fired? Divorced? How do people “succeed”, anyway?

As we emerge bleary-eyed into a post-pandemic era, The F Word will look at the concept of failure from the lens of those who have achieved quintessential success—defined for these purposes as obtaining some level of consistency, and notoriety and reputation in their respective field.

Our culture is hyper-focused on high performance and big, dramatic shows of prolificity. Some are able to exist in this space naturally (the Joan Didions, the Neil Gaimans, the Seth Godins). Some are naturally inclined to produce and produce well, whether it be an artistic endeavor or a corporate one. What of the rest of us? What of the ones who have tried and have failed, who still have dreams of becoming bigger than our current existence but are perhaps stuck? What if we’ve tried to succeed, rearranged our lives to make space for growth, and failed, still? By interviewing familiar faces (those we often aspire to be, or even envy) about their own failures, by looking concretely at the world around us, by pontificating on the nature of successes and non-successes, The F Word will peel back the layers of what it actually means to be successful. When we see new content (a brokered deal, a bestseller, an athletic record) we rarely see the fifty failures that came before. Let’s give space for those stories to be shared; not as stepping stones to eventual success, but as concrete experiences in and of themselves.

We’ve had enough negativity the past months, years, decades… let’s take something characteristically negative and flip it on its head. This newsletter is aimed at those who are beginning to notice the scars of age, and those that have lived with them for a long time. They say never meet your heroes, but who doesn’t want to hear about how our heroes have failed?  

The F Word is for those who have looked around—at their career, at their kids, at their life and thought, honestly, “How the fuck did I get here?”

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A weekly newsletter on Failing, Falling, Flailing, Flying. Published every Tuesday.


Steph Cleary

Writing about failure, motherhood, dreams, and trying to have a life in the in-between moments. I like my coffee black, my metaphors extended, and my commas Oxford.