There’s a lot of failure porn out there — folks who wear it like a badge of honor. They fall into one of two camps.
- People who have since gone on to succeed in their chosen endeavors
- People who have given up on trying and now point to failure as their victory as if it were the end game they aspired to win
Failure sucks. Let’s not kid each other. If you read self-help articles and books about failure, you’ll find a lot of pandering.
“Just because they rejected you doesn’t mean it’s not good.”
This excuse is like the ”not you it’s me,” breakup line. It’s true, you can create spectacular work, and your audience or customers dismiss it. Personal taste influences our evaluation of almost any art. But you know what else is true? Sometimes our work really does suck.
When you create, you take a chance, every time. That’s not a bad thing. Sometimes we have to put out a lot of crap before we find the right combination of magic that makes our work shine.
It’s time to stop making excuses for failure. Don’t use it as fodder for a pity parade. Let’s recognize failure for what it is.
- A tool for growth
- Valuable feedback
- A clue that you did something wrong, or at least something that failed to resonate with your audience.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame other people. Accept that your work was less than spectacular. It’s okay. It’s not a crime.
How to blunt the fear and pain of failure
That’s a logical way of looking at failure, but failure triggers an emotional response. It hurts, and because it hurts, we fear it.
The 4E Approach blunts the pain and fear of failure and enables you to glean lessons that will fuel your growth.
Step 1 — Expose yourself to failure
There’s one sure way not to fail at anything. Never do anything. Sometimes we fear it so much that we avoid situations where we might fail.
Start by exposing yourself to failure on purpose. Keep the stakes low. It will still sting, but you must experience it to numb yourself to its effects.
Step 2 — Experiment
It’s common to attack every effort as a win or die endeavor. You put so much work into it. Sometimes it feels like your entire life rides on the outcome.
What if it doesn’t work? It’s crushing, and so we fear the outcome and rage at the world when it doesn’t work out in our favor.
This new approach will change the way you think about failure.
Think of every creation, every piece of work you put out into the world as an experiment. Change your self-talk to support this view. Change the way you communicate with others about your work.
You know that story, song, poem or book you’re working on? It’s an experiment.
Experiments usually fail. That’s why we experiment, to find out what works and what doesn’t work.
The outcome of your experiments is always unknown. If we knew the outcome ahead of time, there would be no need to experiment. Do you know the result of your creations before you put them out to the world? Of course not. That’s why you can legitimately call it an experiment.
Be curious about the outcome of your experiments, but don’t pin your hopes and self-worth on the result. Giving up your attachment is the linchpin that makes this approach work.
Step 3 — Eliminate the excuses
You experimented, and it failed. It hurts to receive a rejection letter. Total indifference hurts even more. But what you get in return will fuel your growth.
Each failure provides information about what doesn’t work. You have two options to use this information.
You can reject it and make excuses.
“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“These fools don’t know greatness when they see it.”
“It must have slipped through the cracks somehow.”
It’s comforting to deflect the blame on to someone or something else, but excuses never serve you in the long term.
Accept the information
Your experiment failed. It happens. Take some time to digest it. Approach it with the curiosity of a failed experiment. You want to peel back the onion and discover why.
The more you experience failure, the faster you’ll recover from these minor setbacks. When the angst and anger dissipates, you can move onto the next step.
Step 4–Emerge smarter and stronger
Wouldn’t it be great to emerge from a failure with a smile on your face? There’s a lesson to be learned from each experience. When you glean the learnings, you emerge with wisdom.
The experimentation approach makes failure tolerable, but learning from it makes it valuable.
Once you recover from the emotional blow, you can dispassionately assess what went wrong. Review your experience as though you were a disinterested third party.
Categorize your failure into one of four categories.
If a singer sings a song off key, it doesn’t mean the song is bad; it means the singer messed up the execution.
Your idea may have been sound, but you executed poorly. If you’re a writer, that could mean the story never came together in the end, or you failed to state your points clearly.
Some of my most popular stories were second or third tries of earlier attempts. Sometimes you don’t execute well on your first try.
When you critique your work with an honest eye, you become more aware of where you typically bungle the execution. Over time, you will be less likely to repeat those errors.
Your idea was sound. You executed well. Why didn’t it work?
Sometimes your strategy misses the mark. You might have approached your concept from the wrong perspective, or you might have targeted it to the wrong audience.
You also need to consider that maybe there’s nothing new or interesting about it. It takes a lot of intellectual honesty to admit to yourself that your hard work adds nothing of value, but if you have the guts to recognize the truth, the realization could set you on a new and better path.
For a long time, I was intrigued by the idea of using constraints as a tool for enhancing creativity and improving the idea generation process. I wrote a story about it months ago, but it was a straightforward dissertation about constraints. Blah.
It was a lazy strategy. There was nothing new or novel about it. I still believed in the idea, so I revisited it a month ago with the lesson of that earlier story in mind. This one resonated with my audience.
How To Elevate Your Creativity And Sharpen Your Focus In 60 Seconds
And improve your problem-solving skills too.
The wrong vision
A distorted view of the big picture is the most serious problem you’ll face. If you learn from your mistakes and pay attention to your market, it should be the least frequent problem.
In my early days of writing, I refused to acknowledge this. I wrote dozens of stories about persuasion. It didn’t matter what perspective I took. The quality of my writing didn’t matter either. Nobody cared.
You could make the argument that you create for yourself and not for others. That’s true, but then you can’t get upset when nobody shows interest in your work.
Have you ever taken on a job you’re grossly unqualified or unprepared to handle? We like to think of ourselves as masters of our craft. We take pride in that belief. Pride can beget an undeserved arrogance. We feel that we can accomplish anything. As often happens, when you shoot for something beyond your capability, you fail.
As long as you recognize that you failed, in part, because you lacked the skill to pull off the effort, you put yourself in a position to learn from it.
I tried this and failed because I lacked the skills in [fill in the blank.] I need to work on improving [fill in the blank].
- Expose yourself to the possibility of failure.
- Approach your work as a series of experiments.
- Take time to digest a failure.
- Learn from your failure.