Handling Failure With Creativity

I’m what they call a “creative”. I fall under pretty much every laughable stereotype that creative people do, besides having an asymmetrical haircut or bad attitude. But, I’m here to clear something up. I am constantly surprised by the amount of people who think that creativity comes out of the fingers flawless and perfect. Or that in some magical way, we as creatives just create something lovely in fifteen minutes. Whether it be a graphic, a drawing, a painting, a series of photographs, etc. Many people think creativity comes out as a finished product, because that’s typically the stage at which work is revealed or admired.


Creativity and invention are a process. There is a beginning, a middle and an end, just like in a story. Within that process, there is a whole world of trial, error, and failure that eventually leads to a finished product. Not to be dramatic, but almost everything we see day to day was once an idea. Whenever I begin a project or have an idea, I hold it loosely. I know the moment I begin to draw, paint, or open up a file in illustrator, my idea is likely to look completely different in real life than it did in my mind. In those moments, in the beginning, I often times go back to the drawing board. Sometimes I move forward, sometimes I don’t. If it feels right and I see potential in it, I go with it. If it’s hideous or it doesn’t resonate, I start over. THIS IS IMPERATIVE. My ability to reject an idea is equally as important as having the ability to come up with an idea in the first place. Ideas are just ideas. I know they’re valuable, but not all of them are good. These cancellations could either be viewed as failures, or access lines. Failures, or clues. Failures, or ways not to do things. Failures, or mere suggestions to do something a different way.


Throughout my life, I have had to unlearn the fear of failing. I remember learning at a young age that failure was something to be avoided. I have also noticed that most people (including myself) see failure as a negative thing. We associate failure with a lack of success; something that leads to shame, embarrassment or insecurity. For the majority of my adolescence, It had an overarching negative connotation for me and what seemed like all of my peers. The pressure to do things perfectly the first time prevented me from trying a lot of things that I wanted to try.


In my creative life, failure is one of the most important ingredients that leads to the magic. Not only is it important, but it’s necessary. Without the fearlessness it takes to try something and potentially fail, we all would stay safe, and create the same exact things over and over again, and never trying anything new. The choice to not only accept failure, but also to embrace it and listen to it has changed the way I view creativity and failure altogether. For me, and every human out there, I believe, failure is the entryway of an idea. If ideas were houses to be explored, failure is the the welcome doormat, the front door, and the foyer through which a person must pass through. Probably anywhere from 5% to 60% of the time, failure is large portion of my process. Learning how to listen to it and dance with it is essential to my process.


Thomas Edison failed three thousand times while inventing the lightbulb, succeeding twice in his experiments. In his exact words: "I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed three thousand different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty, as perhaps you know, was in constructing the carbon filament, the incandescence of which is the source of the light.".


Can you imagine where we would be if he had become insecure during his process, or taken his failure personally? How easy would it have been after ten, thirty, one hundred, ONE THOUSAND TIMES, to get discouraged and quit?


I often hear people say, “I’m not a creative!” or “I can hardly draw a stick figure” or “every time I try to create something, it looks bad” etc. etc. To which I say, “Welcome to the club! Same here”. I remember vividly being in art school and in my drawing classes, kids coming into class, hardly being able to draw a stick figure. And over the course of the quarter, becoming incredibly skilled, and improving greatly in their ability to draw. They just had to show up. They had to practice. Again and again and again. This practice led to development.


I’m not saying that everything you or I create is going to be beautiful, valuable, or worth someone’s money. The discussion of subjectivity when it comes to judging art for the sake of art, is  not only exhausting, but another discussion entirely.


What I AM saying, is that failure is not only an important part of creativity, it’s an essential and beautiful part of life. If we aren’t failing, we aren’t fully showing up. If we aren’t failing, we aren’t applying ourselves 100%. Safety and comfort are not the places that progress or originality happen. Progress, art, inventions and anything at all worth talking about is made when we don’t give up. When we are willing to show up again and again. Failure after failure. Adjusting and beginning another time more intelligently. Doing things differently. Trying again. So if you have an idea, if you want to build a shelf, start a company, cut your grass a different way, blog, start a new tradition, spice up an old recipe, chase after a dream job, start a new project, learn how to paint / draw / knit, you name it. Just try. Try again and again and again. But don’t look at failure as the end; look at it as one of many beginnings. Know that failure isn’t only necessary, but it’s precious and it’s valuable.