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Monday, April 18, 2016

Fear of Failure

Failure. Mistake. Negative words that we try to avoid at all costs, right? I'd argue against that statement. Failure is necessary and not a negative at all. Mistakes are opportunities. We learn from mistakes and failures but our educational culture teaches us that we can't fail, that we should avoid failure. And if we do fail, it means we're defective or lazy or stupid. I'd argue that if we never fail, we're defective, lazy, or stupid. Or all three. Because if you never fail, it means you've never tried.

Okay, think of popular failure-into-success stories. J. K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter to hundreds of publishers before one of them accepted it. Thomas Edison tried a hundred times to invent the light bulb. Both of these famous people failed at least a hundred times. Failure teaches us persistence, right?

Failure teaches us all sorts of things—about ourselves and about whatever we've failed at.

Are you stubborn or do you give up easily? Would you keep submitting the same manuscript over and over until someone finally accepts it? If I had written Harry Potter, I would have stopped after the first dozen or so rejections. I would have looked at the story again, made some changes, then sent it off to other publishers. I would have written different stuff, more stories. How do I know? Because I have stories that have been rejected multiple times. I've failed in my writing over and over. But each time, I learn. I take the time to figure out why that story might have been passed over. Was it not right for that publication? Did it need revisions? Was there something I could have done better? It's hard when you get a form rejection letter with no suggestions or feedback, but that's when you put on your editor hat and read the story with a very critical eye.

Now how about Thomas Edison? He failed over and over trying to find something that would glow when he ran electricity through it. Each time he failed at that end, he learned something new about that material, though. What if he'd kept experimenting after he found carbonized cotton thread? Would he have found something even better? How many times do we stop experimenting because we found something that works well enough? Sometimes, that is all we need. But each time we try and fail, we learn something new. Think of what we found out because of Edison's experiments with light bulbs. We found lots of materials that don't produce light as a by-product of resistance.

Failures can sometimes produce successes. How many of you use Post-it notes? Those were totally invented by accident. Just Google "things invented by accident" and you'll get a whole long list of items. People set out to make something and failed. Repeatedly. Instead of getting dejected and throwing out their mistakes, they found success. Sometimes it took years and fiddling, like with post-it notes; sometimes it was an instant success.

School teaches us that failure and mistakes are bad but life teaches us failure is an opportunity to learn, to switch directions, to create something new and different from your original plan. Mistakes can sometimes lead to new things even better than what we had envisioned.

Don't fear failure. Learn to embrace it. This is a lesson I need to remind myself of regularly. It's okay to fail. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to get messy and try something new. Because that's what feeds my creative side.