We've all fucked up one-way or another. Then, some prefer to call it a screw-up. Others don't call it anything; they're still silently evaluating whether it was a fuckup or a screw-up. In some cultures, it's not just the idea of a fuckup that terrifies people; it's also the word itself. As I've been following the evolution of the Fuckup Nights in Armenia kick off and become a quite well-attended event, I realized that people don't lower their voices while saying fuckup night anymore.
Hayarpi Sahakyan and Vach Jihanyan, the founders of the Fuckup Nights Armenia, are a totally chill duo. The all-around street smart Vach (tried out over 20 different professions) and book smart Hayarpi (Professor of Philosophy) seem to have hit the nail on the head. The Fuckup Nights audience in Armenia is young, progressive and curious. They don't seem to give a fuck about all the social stigmas that my generation had 20+ years ago. And they don't mind using the word fuckup.
Fuckup Nights is a global movement and event series that shares stories of professional failure. Each month, in events across the globe, four people get up in front of a room full of strangers to share their own professional fuckup.
The format of the event hasn't been confined to one space or institution but is rather a traveling show. That may be due to a lack of financial investments or partnerships, or, simply the founders are trying to find the optimal format for the Fuckup Nights Armenia edition.
I spent a good four hours sitting and chatting with Hayarpi and Vach in Mirzoyan Library, another progressive venue, and a Fuckup Nights host. The ideas, that they have, are very interesting. Vach points at Hayarpi and jokes that “When things get challenging having a philosopher by your side is like having a superpower.”
Sitting and listening to two inspired and inspiring people who have so many things on their agenda on how to change the minds of people and build a welcoming space where they can share and learn from one another which is a massive undertaking, to say the least, is quite refreshing. I asked them whether any of them got a chance to tell their fuckup story at an event. Not yet, was the answer.
What made you connect with the fuckup night idea?
Vach: Honestly, it was one of the best things that happened in my life. It was a very organic and natural connection with Fuckup Night platform. I enjoy listening to the speakers a lot. Each story is very different and what happens to the speaker and the audience is always different.
Do you find that as a society we have a hard time dealing with failure?
Vach: I guess. I think the goal of fuckup initiative, in general, is to help get rid of stigmas around the failure.
We are trained to be afraid of mistakes from early childhood. It’s the inheritance of 19th century industrial age education systems around the world. Back then, the goal was to create obedient workers. The downfall is that when you are afraid you don’t want to try anything original. We wouldn’t have any innovation if there weren’t people who treated failure as a stepping-stone. In today’s technological age, innovation and creativity are the best commodities. Another perk is once you take responsibility for your mistakes, you let go, and they evolve to life lessons.
Failure has some interesting qualities while success is something that’s never final and is different for different people: travel, money, family, etc. I feel that there’s no pretending when people talk about failure, well, maybe a little bit of pretending. But bragging about success is different.
How did you deal with failure?
Vach: When I look back at my childhood and youth, failure wasn’t necessarily terrifying. I was giving up very easily on anything when I failed. Didn’t feel like trying the same thing twice. Maybe that’s the reason why I ended up trying so many different things and professions in my life.
Do you get inspired easily?
Vach: I do get inspired and excited easily and get tired easily. With this project, we want to inspire and boost innovation, encourage people to follow their dreams, and have fun in the process. We also believe having more financially independent people is better for our society.
You mentioned that it was very tough to book speakers in the very beginning. Compared to earlier events when Fuckup wasn’t necessarily something people were used to hearing and labeling their mistakes, is it easy to find speakers now?
Vach: Yes, it is. We thought it was a setback, as we couldn’t book our first set of speakers. We had to build a network of people around us to gain their trust and create a comfortable and supporting atmosphere for them to share their stories.
Would you say you have more presenters from Tech?
Vach: Yes. We are a landlocked country and in a way are disconnected from the world, but luckily the Internet is open. There isn’t much happening in other spheres but the tech is steadily growing. There’s also the exchange happening with the diaspora as it is also rich with tech founders and people in the IT sector.
From all of the stories you have heard both locally and globally, what’s the most common reason for failure?
Vach: In September 2014, the Failure Institute – a nonprofit organization – was born as the research arm of Fuckup Nights. The most common reasons can be slow decision making, poor management, the incompatibility of core team members, etc. The organization researches the causes of failure and helps entrepreneurs to make better-informed decisions, find and pursue a purpose in life and career. Failure Institute has created an interactive map of Global Failure Index. We haven’t had a chance to work on it yet, as we have too much on our plate just with organizing Fuckup Nights, but with some support, we would like to put Armenia on the map to help draw investments.
Have you found your purpose?
Vach: I don’t know. For me, it’s not about finding purpose in life, but rather in a moment.
What do you look for when selecting speakers?
Vach: Well, there is a misconception that we look for successful or well-spoken people. Fuckup Nights is an open and inclusive platform - its purpose is to help participants overcome their ego by standing up in front of complete strangers and be brutally honest about their mistakes.