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Fear of failure

As soon as I read this on All But the Kitchen Sink, I knew that I wanted to share it. It resonated, it spoke from the heart and the questions on the checklist were useful and insightful. So my grateful thanks to Trista Cornelius for allowing its reproduction here.

It took me years to realize I feared failure. I was so afraid of it, I avoided any situation that might lead to it. When people talked about failure, I imagined Big Epic Fall-Apart Catastrophe and knew that would never be me, not realizing this was true only because I avoided sticking my neck out at all.

Most likely, you fear failure too. The trick is to recognize what failure looks like to you. While a Big Scene of Humiliation seemed unlikely for me, I started to notice the many the small worries and threats that held me back. For example, I’ll put off starting a project by telling myself I’m waiting for a Big Block of Time, or the Right Day, as if I need a particular humidity in order to sit down and write or draw. The truth is, I’m afraid to start creating because projects take a lot of time and energy. What if I spend all that time and energy, and it doesn’t work out? What if all that effort results in one more project that sits in a drawer, closet, or hard drive? I want to know it will be successful before I even start because why bother doing it if it goes nowhere? What I know now is that there’s really no such thing as Total Failure. Yes, it’s true that if your work does not meet the goal you’ve set, you’ll be disappointed, hurt, your confidence shaken. There’s no way to avoid some pain unless you completely avoid your craft, and even then there will be the pain of longing and loss. So, accept this fact—failure sucks. However, it’s not a total waste. Far from it. I used to roll my eyes at ideas like this, but it’s true — even if your project does not meet the mark you’ve set, even if it seems to fail in the eyes of others, as painful as that is, you’ll have gained significantly for having created it. Here’s my check list to prove Total Failure does not exist: Did I learn some new skills in the process? Did I sharpen some skills? Build some muscles? Did I meet any new people or connect with others in talking about/creating this project? Did it inspire other ideas for me to pursue?

Did the project leave some scraps I can pick up and spin into new work? Can I break down Failed Project and use parts for new projects? ** ** Maybe a sketch for failed painting becomes the inspiration for a logo or card design. Or a paragraph becomes a prose poem. Or part of your screen play becomes a one-act for a summer festival. Will time reveal that this Failed Project brought me to the exact right people, skills, ideas, and situation to excel in a Future Successful Project? Yes, probably, as long as I don’t let this one failure, or the fear of this kind of failure, derail my daily practice.

Trista writes about art, creativity and day-to-day life at All But the Kitchen Sink. This is but one post; I’m sure you’ll find others that resonate too.