Posts Tagged ‘fear of failure’

A few months back I was working on a book called Failure and Other F Words. It talked about fear of failure and other such things. I hope to publish the book later this year. Before that, I wrote another book called ENOUGH. God and the Fine Art of Measuring Up. Today I realize what I am experiencing is a combination of the two. I’m afraid I don’t measure up. I think I’ve always sort of dealt with this issue, but in the midst of these days it is really manifesting. With all the uncertainty surrounding this “pandemic” it is really hard to know what to do. We cancelled services and two people didn’t get notified. Now I took a lot of steps to make sure that didn’t happen, even putting the notice on TV, but people still managed to get missed and that breaks my heart. The feelings I’m experiencing in these days are not unlike the days when I was doing publication design and the publication came out and the phone started ringing to tell me about everything I missed. Once again I am starting to feel like I don’t have what it takes. Why do I share this? Because this wreaks of something that cripples most people creatively. It’s called perfectionism and right now, it’s really hurting me. Once those feelings set in, all kinds of stuff started to happen. I was trying to figure out how to offer some services to my congregation online. It didn’t work right the first time and rather than looking for the reason why, I immediately started to think, “I don’t have what it takes to do this.” This stuff often seems to compound when I allow myself to lapse into that state.

Should I feel bad that someone got missed? Yes, I love these people and they are very important to me. All I can do at this point is try to rectify the situation. Further, an oversight does not make me incompetent or stupid. I wasn’t too stupid to make the online services work. There’s just a learning curve. Limiting beliefs limit us. The fact is, I’ve never dealt with a situation like this before and neither have most of the people I know. This is uncharted territory, but it’s even more than that. The truth is none of us has within us the capacity for perfection. To live in fear of making a mistake is to live in fear of the inevitable and that, my friend, is an empty life. These are trying times, and trying times are not limited to the length of this “pandemic.” To succeed is not to stop failing, that’s impossible. No, to succeed is to learn to fail forward. In the case of the notifications, there were some problems, Now I need to find a solution. In the case of the online services, there is a solution, now I have to do the work of learning to use it. Will it work perfectly the first time? That’s doubtful, but it will be supremely more effective than doing nothing. This is essentially true in every creative pursuit.

Let me let you in on a little secret. Failure is inevitable, especially as you move into the realm of trying new things. Very few people can do something perfectly the first time and that difficulty is amplified in pressure situations. Try, fail and try again. Now all I have to do is live like I believe this in this stressful time. Please know this, I am praying for you.  God is good and we will get through this.

Okay that’s not entirely true, but there is one thing we cannot afford to fear: failure.  It’s true, there are few things more paralyzing to the creative process, to the utilization of our whatever gifts, that fear of failure. Fear of failure will keep you frozen and stuck. It will keep you from accomplishing your goals and putting yourself and your work out there for the world to see.

I was once driving down the highway and I got behind a guy who had one of those custom  frames around his license plate. The smaller copy at the top of the frame was illegible, but the bottom text could be read from quite a distance. It said Failure is not an option. My heart automatically went out to the guy and I began to feel very sorry for him. I thought of all the undue pressure he must put himself under. Poor guy. Eventually the light in front of us changed to red and I was able to catch up enough to read the top line of text on the frame, which gave me an entirely different view of the man’s predicament. You see, it said “Bomb Disposal Technician.” In that case, he was right, failure is not an option. He gets one shot to get it right each and every time he steps up to do his work. The same applies to surgeons and a few other fields.

So unless you are a bomb disposal technician or some other hazardous profession, failure is also not an option. It’s a necessity. The truth of the matter is using our gifts and solving problems, requires experimentation, requires trying new things, and with trying new things comes failure. Bottom line: YOU WILL FAIL. No exceptions, so you might as well not fear it. Instead, we need to learn from our failures, and learn to fail forward. Fearing something that is inevitable, is pointless. Instead the question is what we can learn from this failure? How can we move forward to success from here?

Don’t be afraid of failure, learn from it and keep going. Success belongs to those who do the work and persevere.

Assignment: Think about a past failure. What did you learn from it? What are your current struggles? How has fear held you back? Now look for ways to overcome your fears and fight you way back from them.

Sometimes the hardest part of a project is not finishing. It’s starting. I find myself there right now with a project I wrote about earlier. My Stations of the Cross series of paintings. Here’s the thing. It’s not that I don’t have an idea. I have one that I have clearly delineated and even wrote about here. I love the idea, I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but I’m stuck at the starting line. I know the project is going to be a huge amount of work; fourteen pieces of art. I also know I want them to have a common style so they look like a cohesive collection, and that is at least part of the problem. I want to make sure I am happy with the direction it is going because once I do one, I am going to have to make all the others fit with it (or at lest thats how it feels in my mind.)

As I think on this issue, I think I have found my way around it. This is not an all or nothing situation, or at least it doesn’t have to be. If I create the first piece and I don’t like it, I can use it for something else and start over. Thinking like that removes the pressure of getting it right the first time. In creative things, that almost never happens anyway. Secondly I know I want to have it all done for next holy week. This deadline is also pressuring me because I feel like I have a limited time to experiment to get it right. Now if you’ve been reading this for any length of time you know I am a big fan of deadlines. They help us stop procrastinating and get it done but with a project of this magnitude, it may just take longer than a year. I imposed the deadline and I can change it. That alleviates a lot of pressure as well and as I’ve said many times, “Artists who say they work best under pressure are full of it.” Pressure can really curtail creativity and help to keep us from starting.

The other problem I am having that is keeping me a little stuck at the start is how will I use it? Will it be for my church, my speaking ministry or both? Do I want to do something I could get into a gallery or something that will travel with me and end up being speed painted. Working this out will also help me know which direction to take and for this project at this stage, that is important.

When it comes to all this stuff, I am usually a “ready, fire, aim” kind of guy. Starting and pressing through it to the end. I love working that way because even my false starts will often lead to something new. The starting line can be intimidating, but it is an essential point on the journey to finishing. To finish you have to start. So start. I’ll start too. The worst thing that can happen is I end up messing up and have to start over. Failure is not an option to creatives, it’s a necessity, so start. You’ll either succeed or you’ll fail and if you fail, you’ll learn from it, fail forward until you succeed.

I got this really interesting journal today. It’s by a company called Waff. It’s got this rubber waffle like cover and comes with an assortment of letter tiles you can use to decorate the cover. I called my Ideas 4 World Domination Notes. Now to be clear, I don’t really want to rule the world. I know the guy who does and it’s too big a job for me. The idea was to do something a little tongue in cheek where I could store my product ideas, book outlines and other things that pop into my head that I might one day take to market.

As you know I am a big advocate of storing ideas and I thought this might be a good way to do it. After all ideas are very valuable to creatives and most of us are pretty prolific idea generators. If we’re not careful, though, we can have a hundred projects started and none finished. It’s far better to finish what you’re working on and store the other ideas for when your current project is finished.

Guys we have got to finish what we start. Until our work is finished, we can’t share it with the world, and until it’s shared, it benefits no one. I think sometimes withholding our work is just a form of procrastination. We still feel busy and somewhat productive, but we don’t have to deal with rejection, or any one of a hundred other things we fear. Of course all those fears also keep us from the best byproduct of finishing a project… SUCCESS.

What we really fear is how the world will receive (or not receive) our work. Putting that fear behind us allows us to achieve a different kind of world domination. The kind that allows us to stand up and say here is my contribution, I hope you like it and if you don’t, I’m not worried, someone will. It’s that kind of confidence that allows us to succeed.

I am really excited to start filling my world domination notebook, I’m even more excited to share what comes out of that book with the world around me. You need to do the same. Your ideas are your own. If you don’t put them out there, no one will, because no one else can.

Get out there and dominate!

YOURENOTCOVERI say it here a lot, but failure is part of the creative process and a necessity to creative success. After all the only people who never fail are God and people who never try anything new. Since we’re not God and creativity is all about trying new things, failure is inevitable. PERIOD! Since failure is part of the creative life, we creatives need to learn to fail forward.

The first step is to start ,and fear of failure keeps more people from starting than any of us will ever know, largely because these great things they should have started never made it out of their imagination. Once you have started, the next step is to finish, but before you’re completely finished, it’s a good idea to take the idea far enough so that someone else can see it and share it. This might be a drawing or a mock up, maybe even a prototype, depending on what you do. The idea here is to get some feedback before you’ve invested tons of time and money in something that is not going to work, because nothing crushes the creative spirit faster than an epic fail (especially if other people’s money is involved.)

Please note I am not necessarily talking about sharing this half formed idea with the world and certainly not with people who are consistently nay sayers, but with a couple of visionary people (you should be building this group if you haven’t already) who can look at an idea and see potential. The main thing with this group of people is that they can be constructive. In some cases one or two will not see it yet. Most of the time, this is not yet time to put on the brakes. If everyone sees too many fatal flaws, it may be time to scrap the idea, but more than likely, it’s just time to go back to the drawing board and work out through the flaws. By the way, I am not a fan of scrapping any ideas. There are some ideas that may just be miles ahead of their time and the rest of the world, technology, etc. may just not have caught up yet.

Now suppose everyone thinks your idea is the best thing since sliced bread (what did they say before sliced bread was invented?), what do you do next? The obvious answer is to finish it and make the thing real. Here we need to set a deadline. When will you release your project? Set a realistic deadline and stick with it. Here’s why. Fear of failure is still out there and at this stage it manifests in endless tweaking rather than what must be done. What’s that? It needs to be released, It needs to be shipped. It needs to be shared with the world however that happens in your world. You send the manuscript to the editor. You release the song. You perform the play. You hang your painting in the gallery or wherever you put your work.

Here’s the thing, even with all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted, there will still be times where your work will flop. You will still fail. What to do then? Learn and move forward. If your work is flawed, fix it and try again. If it feels hopeless, put it aside and start the next thing, remembering you’re not a failure, you just tried something and it didn’t work (for now). For scientists, this is called an experiment. Thank God they don’t quite when one of those fails because they fail by the millions daily. They learn from what didn’t work, and try something new. We creatives have to do the same thing. While focus is huge, you should always have another idea on the back burner. The reason is simple. We get invested in what we do, sometimes so invested that we will wallow in a failure and give up. The only fatal failure is the one that makes you quit. Don’t do it. Get right back on the proverbial horse and start again. Fail forward until eventually you succeed…

and you will succeed.

Probably not what you wanted to hear first thing this morning but it’s true. I posted a picture a few days ago that said something to the effect of “In order to live the creative life we must lose the fear of being wrong.” Artists need to fail. We can’t help it. We create things that have not existed before. It’s like the old saying, you have to break some eggs to make an omelet. Fear of failure will cripple us creatively. Fail boldly. Give your best, create with conviction and know this, it’s not always going to work, but you will be very limited as an artist if you only do what’s safe.

Don’t be afraid to fail! Remember the Bible tells us that we were not given a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear. What we were given was a Spirit of Sonship. We are God’s children, He’s our Abba, literally our daddy. When we set out with all our hearts to please and honor Him, I have a feeling even our failures hang on Daddy’s refrigerator door.

Create with great love and fear no art.