Geetanjali Mukherjee

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Learning to Fail

I was reading The Midas Touch, by Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki, the other day, and one insight that really jumped out at me was the importance of being willing to fail. Of course, they are referring to entrepreneurs in the book, but I think the insight applies equally well to creative professionals. After all, the way to get better at our craft involves trying different things and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

However, its not always easy to allow ourselves to fail, or even to entertain the possibility of failure. Especially when you are trying to establish yourself, your mind fills with doubts and doomsday scenarios - this current project will bomb, you will metaphorically fall on your face, and no one will ever buy your art. Ironically, the one thing you need to do to get better, is what you often feel incapable of doing.

So if you can’t eagerly sign yourself up for failure, what do you do then?

The last few days I was re-working the outline of my WIP, and I started to get misgivings about the flow and whether it was innovative enough, and well-researched enough. I got panicky thinking that I didn’t know what I was doing, and I should just quit. After all the hours I put into it I couldn’t bear to simply give up, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I was afraid to fail. I was afraid of giving up, and yet I was afraid if I went through with it in its current form, my work would be terrible and I would look amateurish. I was stuck and miserable.

And then I asked myself what would be the worst thing that happened if I did an average job. It wouldn’t be failing exactly, but it wouldn’t be killing it either. And I realized that it wouldn’t be that bad. I gave myself permission to be average, which really meant giving myself permission to fail.

I started over, and within very little time I had a new outline. And this is the strange part - it was actually much better than the previous one, and looked much more professional than I was expecting. I was actually really happy with it.

In a way, letting myself fail didn’t actually lead to failure (well not yet anyway). What it did do was free myself up to be more creative, to look at the problem from a different angle, one I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

So, to come back to the question, if you can’t eagerly sign up for failure, how do you gain the ability to learn from it?

Think about that project that you abandoned, or haven’t finished despite numerous attempts, because you were trying to get it just right. Think about that idea that you had but were too afraid to try in case you got it completely wrong. These are projects that you’ve already doomed to the dust heap, because you aren’t working on them anyway. Give yourself permission to do an average job, in fact, go ahead and say, “let’s do a poor job”. At least it will get done. And you will learn the valuable lesson of learning from failure.

Try it and I guarantee you, you will be surprised by the result. You may even fail to fail! Start right away, what do you have to lose?
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