Three Big Creative Lessons You Can Learn From Failing
It’s drilled into us from a young age: failure is the enemy of success. We’re taught to feel ashamed when we fail, our weaknesses highlighted and deconstructed, our future dreams pushed further and further from reach.
Well, we’ve had enough of this thinking. It’s time to embrace failure as a positive because it has the power to improve our wellbeing and make us better creators...
As the saying goes, it’s a thin line between love and hate, but there’s an even thinner line between failure and success. They’re best of friends. They hang out at the same bars, they support the same football team and their families have BBQs together on the weekends. You can’t have one without the other.
There are hundreds of ways that a fear of failure manifests within us. Sometimes it appears in the form of low self-esteem, or self-sabotage through procrastination and anxiety. It can be as simple as the feeling we haven’t really achieved anything at all or being so scared of failing that we consider not trying in the first place. Other times we find ourselves unwilling to try new challenges or attempt something we know won’t be perfect.
It can be difficult, especially in adulthood, to shake the idea that failure is a bad thing, but we need to do it. By planning for failure, as well as embracing it when it happens, we can take more control over our wellbeing and creative output.
Here are three important lessons from three successful people who faced and overcame their own failures...
FOCUS ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT
“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity.”
When JK Rowling hit rock bottom, it was a realisation of her greatest fear, and it became a foundation on which she was able to rebuild her life. “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential,” she told the Harvard Alumni Association. “I stopped pretending I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
From JK Rowling’s greatest failure, came her greatest achievement: Harry Potter. The knowledge that she had emerged wiser and stronger granted her inner security that she may otherwise never have gained.
“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will and more discipline than I had suspected.”
This focus and determination is a painfully won gift, but one that can be used to propel yourself to greater heights. You failed. What do you see as success? Embrace your mistakes, and use the energy to channel a clear path towards higher plains.
EXPECT TO FAIL
“The challenge with letting your genius out is that it might not work. And that expression, ‘it might not work,’ is super hard to say out loud.”
And yet, Seth Godin argues, there is a power to understanding the risks that come with any endeavour. Dancing with your fear of failure helps you realise that you don’t have all the answers, and forces you to think strategically. “You will learn to see more accurately, you will learn the difference between a good idea and a bad idea and, most of all, you will keep producing.”
There’s a balance to failure. You don’t want to fail too softly, as though you never really tried at all, and you don’t want to fail so hard that you can’t get up again. The lesson is nicely captured by Seth’s love for ice skating: “the person who leans forward the most wins.” And what happens if you lean forward too much? “You land on your face”.
It’s that tension, challenging yourself enough to drive ideas forward, that Seth looks for in every project he does. “You feel this moment where there might not be a safety net, where it might not work. And then you continue on anyway”.
“It’s hard to remain sad when you’re focused on what you have instead of what you don’t have”.
Oprah Winfrey isn’t talking about misplaced optimism. She’s talking about an ability to empower yourself through deliberate, positive realisations of your situation. And this is exactly what she did to bounce back from a huge setback in her career.
It is scientifically proven that “training” your brain to feel more thankful leads to a more positive outlook. And the best thing about a positive outlook? You’ll no longer be clouded by anxiety over what you’re lacking, and instead, be free to identify opportunities you may have otherwise missed.
People strengthen their ability to express gratitude in a hundred different ways. Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss takes three minutes every morning to meditate and consider what he is grateful for. Psychologist Shawn Achor writes down three things that he appreciates.
Our favourite way to feel thankful, however, is celebrating every victory. Write down your goals, no matter how small they are, then take time to reflect on every step you’ve reached on your path to achieve them. Breaking larger goals down into bite-size chunks will help you feel a sense of accomplishment and build momentum towards your next challenge.
Looking for more ways to improve your creative wellbeing? Our Creative Mind section is a treasure trove of insight and experience:
Header illustration by Sara Pitto.