Don’t let failure kill your creativity

Living a creative life can often feel like one long road trip riddled with disappointments, blows, failures and frustrations. Don’t worry though, it’s not just you that feels like this. The same sentiments are expressed by many other artists, thinkers and creative entrepreneurs.

When you do fall off the horse, experience what you perceive as a crushing blow, or simply have ‘one of those days’ – there is no alternative but to ‘get back on’ and hope for a better ride tomorrow!

Get back on your horse

When you take a knock, how can you stay creative, and keep thinking, keep making and keep doing? And why is it, even after complete failure, defeat and disappointment shouts at you to throw the towel in, turn back, abandon everything and go do something easier – you don’t.

It’s because you love what you do. You’re a creative. You know nothing else but this. And you realise (once you’ve dusted yourself off) that this is your only life. Even if you take a break for a while, pack your pencils and paints away, shut the laptop, or switch your camera for an Xbox – you know you’ll be back, and sooner than you think.

Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

See failure as a challenge

Rather than view creative failure as an end of the line, see it as just one stop amongst many. Easier said than done, but the further you get in your career or craft your skills, the less devastation failure will make.

See failure as a growth opportunity

Don’t ever think that failure and disappointment is a signal of being a bad creative, or having done something wrong – it’s just a quick reminder that there’s more you can do, and that can be done. Look at failure as an opportunity to learn, and an opportunity to reduce the risk of any future failures – as this won’t be your last. 

Starting is what stops most people

Fear of failure can kill your creativity instantly. It can stop you growing as a creative or artist and stop you achieving your dreams. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

If fear manifests in your mind, you’re almost certain to not start a project, just because you think you’ll fail. And why would you want to create something than no one will ever see, or want to see? It’s all just a wast of time, right?

If you’re looking at it like this, then you’ve only got yourself to blame, as it’s this self-defeating mindset that stops you in your tracks even before you make any attempt to start. It’s safe to say, fear is the biggest killer of creative output.

Here’s how fear and stopping before you start can manifest;

  • I’d like to learn the guitar, but… I don’t know where to start, and I won’t be very good at it anyway.
  • I’ve got a great idea for a new business, but… I know little about running that kind of business.
  • I’m going to start a podcast, but… I’m so busy with everything else and people won’t listen to it anyway.
  • I’m going to go for a bike ride today, but… I’ll go tomorrow instead, the weather may be better.

By the way, these are just some of the thoughts I had today. Far too many ‘buts’!

Photo by Nong V on Unsplash

There are many other possible reasons why I didn’t get round to starting or doing any of these things today. Maybe I’m just too busy, maybe they don’t interest me enough, maybe I’m lazy. Whatever the reason, they’re all just BS excuses for simply not starting or having a go. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’d be good at something, if you never try, you’ll never know.

There’s always someone better than you

Look around you. I guarantee you can see people who are better than you. With all their natural abilities. Making things look easy. Developing and creating things in half the time you ever could. They’re just freaks of nature.

But, maybe their difference is that they’ve mastered their skill and aptitude through thousands of hours practicing, they live just to do their thing, and when they’re not doing it, they’re thinking or dreaming about doing it. The truth is many of these people have also spent hours failing, feeling frustrated and that they’re not good enough. But they managed those thoughts, and kept going.

You will fail

Failure is inevitable. Understand that fact. How you choose to view that failure is what will set you apart, keep you motivated, and help you define yourself and your style.

When we think of failure, we imagine the biggest catastrophe – failure only comes in XXL sizes. Well that’s not the case; failure comes in limitless shapes and sizes, and most of them aren’t catastrophic in any way. Failure is like stubbing your toe; you weren’t looking where you were going, it really hurt for about 5 minutes, and 10 minutes later you forgot you did it, and no one will know unless you tell them. And next time you’ll be more careful. Hopefully you get what I’m saying – failure is only painful for you!

Photo by the blowup on Unsplash

The unsung hero of creativity

Failure delivers valuable information. It explicitly shows you what doesn’t work, which can sometimes be more important than what does, and encourages the mastering of skills through trial and error. Creative brilliance grows over time, and failure is the engine that drives that process forward. We really don’t have the time to let evolution do it’s thing, that’ll take way too long obviously – we just need to practice more.

By getting use to failure, learning from it, and practicing to make the wrongs right, you’ll improve confidence and remove those roadblocks to starting.

A good critic

I really can’t stress this enough – collaborate. I don’t mean you have to work with someone whilst you develop your ideas or outputs. But you really do need to have a partner/collaborator with a good pair of eyes, ears and the ability to say it like it is. It’s wise to select someone who’s in the same department, or has similar skills and experience, or the feedback and support you’ll receive may be way off the mark.

If they do spot mistakes in what you’re doing, they won’t be as negative as you think they may be. That’s because they get it, and hopefully get you. A good critic will help you improve the things you struggle with so you can learn and move past any obstacle.

If however, they decide to rip it up and tear you down, they’re not the right person to be involved with, and I suggest you move on to someone who can actually teach you how to do things better.

Criticism is part of the creative process, and an integral part that many creatives ignore – because they don’t like how it makes them feel. Simply put, not everyone will share your taste. But that really shouldn’t matter – a good critic should park their personal likes and dislikes, and have the ability to provide unbiased feedback and direction to keep you on track. Always ask for their honesty and recommendations on how they would improve things. And if they’re giving up their time to help, you need to give up your time to listen.

Final thoughts

Creative work is a beautiful thing. Every project is an experiment with thinking, meaning, patience and skills. When we create something we want the world to appreciate it and find it as meaningful as we do. It gives us an outlet to explore our ideas, feelings and imagination. So next time you make a mistake, learn from it, and over time you will improve and perfect a style and approach that will consistently bring you success.

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