I had been assigned a big project and the proposed idea was expensive.
After a previous venture was viewed as a success, the powers that be considered our request and said, “Ok, let’s give them what they need.” I was floored. Humbled. Scared.
Did I mention my idea was going to cost us a lot of money?
While there were a number of factors involved in how we came to the final product and even though I had worked harder on it than any other project I’d ever been involved in, it was deemed a failure.
“Yeah…I just didn’t like it,” was the general consensus.
Honestly, I wished people had hated it instead of hemming and hawing.
It’s kind of like when you’d rather have your parents yell at you but instead they tell you in subdued, adult-sounding tones that they’re just disappointed.
So what did I do when I realized it had been an epic failure?
In a meeting.
In front of my boss.
The fact that we spent (and lost) a lot of money on my idea made me want to run away. The fact that the idea was mine made me want to hide.
After a few days of quite literally hiding out feeling sorry for myself, I decided I needed to do something.
I licked my wounds, chatted with a few close friends and colleagues, and came to the conclusion that my failure wasn’t me – my failure was my idea.
We mustn’t take our creative failures personally.
When it comes to our creative failures, let us admit to ourselves (and our audiences, and our clients, for that matter) that we operate in the world of art, not science.
And even science gets it wrong sometimes.
Yet the pain is still very real.
The good news is that feeling the pain of our failures only means we haven’t arrived yet. It means we still have room to grow. It means we’re still in the game.
My father-in-law, who has struggled with a few failures of his own as evidenced by his completion of a 12-step program many years ago, always says that to feel pain means to know you’re alive.
Our creative failures must spur us toward life not death.
I’ve been acting since I was nine years old and have been on probably more than 1,000 auditions.
Of those auditions, I’ve landed maybe 75. Maybe.
And as I’ve mentioned before, while the “yes” is scary, the “no” still hurts.
Failure is painful but it cannot be personal.
When you don’t take your failures personally you open them up to becoming experiences that can transform you.
Take it from someone who has been rejected at minimum 975 times, failures are given to us so that we might practice growth.
They mustn’t cause us shame. They mustn’t cause us to run for the hills.
I recently caught an interview with Liza Minnelli.
Any former crazy that was in the songstress had vanished and been replaced with candor and grace.
When asked if she had any regrets over the years, she replied,
“Oh sure, but so what. It’s done. What you try and do every day is take the best of the day and do what you can with it.”
She then added, “And stay curious.”
Here is a woman in her 60’s who is still creating, still changing, still in the game.
The sad truth is, I know people half her age who have already stopped practicing the art of curiosity.
They’re done growing.
They’re unwilling to change.
They’re not interested in wonderment of any kind, and they’re rather fine with it (or so they say).
It is as sad to me as it is maddening.
The lack of curiosity (particularly in regard to our failures) means the death of any new work.
Your life will never be any different unless you’re curious about your own story.
Your relationships will never grow unless you wonder why everyone always does that one thing in response to that one thing you always do.
Your art will never advance unless you are curious about its boundaries and why it sometimes doesn’t work the way you want it to.
Instead of approaching our failures with shame and resignation, we should approach them with curiosity.
I wonder how I could have had that conversation differently?
I wonder if this failure is more systemic in nature?
I wonder how I could have prepared differently?
I wonder how I could have prepared more?
I wonder if I didn’t get the job simply because I reminded the director of her ex-husband?
I wonder if it’s not about me at all?
So, whether you’re curious like George or Liza, it’s time to start exploring your insides and seeing just why things didn’t work.
For more on becoming a better human and a better artist, register for a brand new 8-week online course taught by Blaine Hogan, Creative Director at Willow Creek.