“What so wonderful about wasting that kind of time [failing]? It’s simple: the more you fail in private, the less you fail in public. In many ways, the creative act is editing. You’re editing out all the lame ideas that won’t resonate with the public. It’s not pandering. It’s exercising judgement.” –The Creative Habit, p. 213
There are six classes of failure noted by Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit:
- Failure of skill – you bit off more than you can chew, your mouth is writing checks your body can’t cash, etc. etc. You have a great idea, but you don’t have the requiste talent to execute it properly. Really only one thing you can do in this situation; get better at what you’re trying to do. That is necessarily going to involve failure, because you’ve got to practice something to get better at it. No skating by, just hard work.
- Failure of concept – your idea was no good. Back to the drawing board. More failure.
- Failure of judgement – you leave something in your work that you should have taken out, for whatever reason. Maybe you didn’t realize it wasn’t going to work, or maybe you did, but you left it in because someone who’s opinion you respect liked it. Whatever the cause, you goofed up and didn’t do something you should have done the first time. The key takeaway from this type of failure is to not apologize for doing what you think is right the first time. If it doesn’t work, fine, but don’t let people pressure you against your better judgement to not change something you feel needs to be changed. Your name and reputation will be attached to the product you turn out. No one else will get blamed for something going wrong, so the least you can do is not take the heat for something you didn’t want in the first place.
- Failure of nerve – this goes along with failures of judgement. You didn’t stick to your guns and go with your gut. Don’t be afraid to do something that’s a stretch.
- Failure of repetition – repeating the same thing over and over because it’s comfortable. Whether or not you’ve had success with it in the past is irrelevant; you won’t grow in your craft if you never try anything new. The only way to push yourself is to live out on the edge where you feel uncomfortable.
- Failure of denial – you see something that isn’t working, but you refuse to deal with it, hoping other folks won’t notice it. They will.
I know, I know, I know. It’s probably one of the most overused troupes around associated with any kind of effort; you’ve got to fail to succeed. Two steps forward, one step back. It’s easy to accept intellectually, and the reasoning behind it makes sense. No one wants to fail publicly, so we try to keep our failures to ourselves. This is understandable, if not defensible (after all, everyone fails. Why try to act different from everyone else?).
The problem arises when I don’t want to admit failure to myself, publically or privately. If faced with a challenge that seems too hard, or I don’t know how to approach it, I throw up my hands and don’t even try. I convince myself it’s better to not attempt something than to fail trying.
This, of course, is total garbage. I know I’m lying to myself, and it just frustrates me even more. Not only do I end up lying to myself (and, if I can’t trust me not to laugh at me, who can I trust?), I never get better at something I want so badly to be good at.
Is there an easy solution to this? Probably not. After all, it’s really about more than failure. It’s a self-esteem issue; it’s about the ability to be okay with ambiguity in life. The only thing I can do is force myself to do the things that scare me, and to do them publically from the start. By openly putting my efforts up for critique, I offer myself the chance to get used to operating in the light of day. It’s the fastest way to get over your stage fright, isn’t it?