Fear of failure can kill your creativity. Slowly, surely, and silently.  During my lifetime, I’ve come to understand that the single greatest barrier to outputting creative work is the fear of failure.  It’s a constant battle for us. Why even start a project if it’s just going to fall short of our expectations? Why create something that no one will ever see? Why waste the time?

We need to stop filling our time with meaningless busy work and then saying we are too busy when presented with the opportunity to work on something important.

Sure there are a handful of natural prodigies in the world who really can do things better than the rest of us, but they’re an anomaly. Most people who master a skill, whether it’s filmmaking, music or basket weaving, spent thousands, if not tens of thousands of hours practicing their craft before people even thought twice about what they were making. And then they spent thousands more hours to reach the point were people really started to care. In truth, many of those hours were spent failing, frustrated, and feeling as if they weren’t good enough. But they kept at it.

We will probably fail. Embrace that fact now. How we choose to view that failure is what will set us apart, keep us motivated, and help us define ourselves.

We have to reaize that failure comes in all shapes and sizes, and not all of them are catastrophic, or even significant. Part of the problem is that the discussion around failure assumes that it only comes in one size; big, scary, and likely to beat us up if we come across it.

People are afraid to try new things because they think a whole laundry-list of terrible things await them if they can’t nail it perfectly the first time. The truth, though, is that failures come in limitless shapes and sizes, and most of them aren’t particularly overwhelming.

There are, of course, real failures, too. Dams breaking, tsunamis flooding nuclear reactors, financial systems that hide growing and systemic issues. These all have devastating and far reaching consequences.  Remember that most failure does not present this kind of trauma, either to us or anyone else.

Will our projects turn out perfectly? Probably not, especially if we are trying something for the first time. What’s important to remember though, is that’s sort of the point – Why failure is the unsung hero of the creative process.

Every time we fail, we gain a valuable piece of information. What doesn’t work is sometimes even more important than what does, or at least as important, and mastering skills only happens through a process of trial and error.  Art and artists grow over time, and failure is the engine that drives that process forward. In athletics, music, and some other disciplines, it is called “practice.”

We need to seek out the good critics, those that do see the art with the same depth as we almost certainly do. We can’t take it as personally as we have a tendency to do. If they see the mistakes, they won’t be as turned off by it as we most likely are. If they’re really good peers, they’ll even help us improve the things we struggle with so we can learn and move past the obstacle.

Criticism is part of the creative process, though. More than that, it’s an integral part that many people ignore because they don’t like how it makes them feel.

Not everyone is going to share our tastes. But the really good critics will be the ones that offer solutions in addition to critiques. We can’t hide from failure because we are afraid of the criticism that accompanies it.  We need to look for people who can teach us how to do things better, and ask them to critique us honestly. Practice deliberately & fail religiously.

Someone once asked me how do I find a good critic?  I told them get married…….. 🙂

Let me end on just one example of someone who didn’t allow failure to sink his ship: One of the most popular artists in the history of American country music, Willie Nelson recorded 68 studio albums, 30 of which achieved gold or platinum status. However, he ran into tax problems, he owed $32 million to the IRS after it emerged that his accountants hadn’t properly paid his taxes for years.

He worked hard, recorded an album, did commercials–including one for H&R Block that made fun of his problems–and ultimately paid off his debts. He’s been recording and touring ever since. He is probably more popular now than he would have been if not for his troubles.

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