The Hardest Thing About Failure

We all know that failure is a necessary part of the creative process. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. It doesn’t matter whether the project is a play or poem or short story or novel that we are writing, a photograph or oil painting or watercolor or digital image or sculpture or musical composition or directing some sort of stage performance. Whatever the project, if we, as artists, take genuine risks, it is likely that we will fail at some time or the other. And then we have to deal with it.

I use the term genuine risk advisedly. There are artists I know who take pretend risks, i.e. they do something just a little edgier than their norm; these artists hardly ever fail, but then they hardly ever grow either. Safe is a comfortable place to be, but if there is no possibility of real failure, then there is no real risk, and no potential for real growth.

That real risk sometimes results in a real failure. And we are not talking about the oh-this-is-hard-I’m-going-to-stop-and-throw-up-my-hands sort of failure; we are talking about I-have-beaten-my-head-on-a rock-for-the-last-three-years-trying-to-make-this-project-work-and-it’s-just-not-happening-and-now-it’s-crashing-and-burning failure. When it happens, and it will, we have to deal with it, and that is a hard thing.

The hardest thing in dealing with failure is admitting it. It feels terrible; we take it personally. So often we refuse to admit it, and we continue to try things and spend time and resources beating our heads on that same rock that we have become so familiar with. But at some point we have to actually admit that we have actually failed, and there is no point in trying to dress it up with euphemisms. We didn’t just “not succeed;” we freakin’ failed. And the sooner we recognize it and address it, the better.

Once we have overcome everything in us that struggles against failure and admitted our situation, we can get on with the wrap-up and then move on to a new, hopefully more successful project. That wrap-up includes two important components: salvaging what we can and learning what we can.

Even though the project may be a failure, there may well be pieces that are salvageable, pieces that can form the basis for new projects or simply be stored and used at some other time as a portion on some other project. Just because the main project is a failure doesn’t mean that all of the effort was wasted. We must examine what we have and what might be of use at another time. (There was an earlier post about this method of recovery.)

The second thing we can do is learn from the failure. If mistakes were made, we should try to discover them so we won’t repeat them. But there are many other things we can learn from failure. It would be well to take a little time to analyze why the project did not succeed to better insure success the next time. It would not be well to take this as an opportunity to impugn our self-worth (For an excellent discussion of this problem, see the May 23, 2016 edition of Brain Pickings.)

To be sure, if we continue to create and grow, we will have other failures. The key is what we do with them. If we admit them when they occur, salvage what we can, and learn from them, the ultimate result will be success.

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Date: Sunday, 29. May 2016 23:20
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