Talking About Failure

Let’s talk about Failure. Not the kind of failure that everyone talks about. This isn’t the “fail early, fail often” type of failure that helps you learn, and iterate ideas faster. I want to talk about the kind of failure where you worked so hard toward a goal and you did everything right, but in the last moment it fell through. You didn’t get the job, you didn’t get accepted to school, you didn’t make the team. You failed.

Coping with that type of disappointment takes so much strength, so much determination, and not everyone has that. Some people give up. Some people take it as a sign that they weren’t meant to do what it is they set out to do. They were afraid to try again and ultimately they did fail.    FEAR_of_failure

Others strengthen their resolve. They try again. Those are the people that will succeed in life because they never give up.

Recently my brother has experienced a failure of this magnitude in his career before it even got started. He spent four years dedicating himself to his chosen career path, one that requires a rigorous training process. He waited in line for his turn, he worked while he waited, he studied hard, took every form seriously, and he was at the top of his class. But when the final evaluation was worth 70% of his grade, he hit a snag, got frazzled and couldn’t recover. It was a devastating blow to his confidence. Not to mention shattered his plans to finally get out of school and “start his life”.
At that moment it would have been easy to give in to the fear. When you work so hard and your failure means starting over, you can be stuck in a “now what” mentality. What do I do with myself now that I’ve been denied access to my career of choice? Do I re-apply? Do I look to do something else?

Fear of failing is a huge reason why some people don’t ever try at all. 

Every speaker I’ve ever heard that speaks about success has had a moment in their life where something wasn’t going the way they wanted, and fear was holding them back from continuing down an un-known path (i.e making them fail). The reason why these people were standing there, speaking to a crowd about their success is because they pushed past the fear, and came out the other side. Their determination and drive lead them to a place of success.

Brian Flynn Speaks on Fear

Coincidentally, this month’s Creative Mornings was about the topic of failure and the super talented Brian Flynn was the speaker. Creative Mornings San Francisco at Pinterest *Side note, this creative mornings was hosted by Pinterest and they have such an awesome design-nerdy space! Even down to the bathroom with the pink flamingo wallpaper! creativelydriven_creativemornings_failure_2 Brian started out the talk by saying he wasn’t going to talk about projects he failed on and how he got through them, but instead talked about how failure is a symptom of fear and that we really only fail when we don’t try at all (or try again when the first time didn’t go as planned). When Brian approaches every new “risky” project, he asks himself this:

What do you have to lose? And what is the worst that could happen?

Brian Flynn speaks on Failure at Creative Mornings San Francisco Brian had a very positive and healthy attitude toward failure, that even if you do fail, the results from that failure usually aren’t so devastating that you’ll lose everything precious to you in your life. It might mean leaning on your resources a little more for support while you pick yourself back up, but If your determination to reach your goal outweighs your fear of continuing, you have a much higher chance of succeeding. creativelydriven_creativemornings_failure_6 So just get out there and start making things. Put them out there for the world to see and eventually you’ll gain some traction. As Brian Flynn said, there’s no award for not participating. creativelydriven_creativemornings_failure_5

There’s one more really great nugget from Brian that I wanted to share and I think this is a KEY piece to his outlook on life and his success. With every new personal project he takes on, whether it’s designing a new toy, or remodeling a new office space, he said has faith that he will learn how to do something “in real time” and as long as he breaks even, he considers it a success.

“The project was successful as long as we broke even”

Does this Sound familiar?

That’s because you’ve heard this message before. Maria Papova mentioned “being present and just doing the work” in her talk at Typo SF 2014.

Maria Papova - typo sf 2014

from the typo SF 2014 article

Luke Mysse’s keynote was all about how fear keeps us from succeeding at the How Freelancers Conference in 2013.

Luke Mysse speaks on fear and failure

from the How Conference article

And finally, one of my favorite people, Elle Luna awakened me at Moxie Con with her totally inspiring and deep story about her personal journey of getting past her fear and striving for her dreams.

Elle Luna speaks at moxie con april 2013

from the moxie con article


To finish my anectdote…

My brave brother has decided to move forward with his life and re-apply for his dream job. In the mean time, he has not let this set back change his plans. He moved in with his girlfriend in a small, but cozy apartment back where they call home, and got a decent paying job while he “waits his turn in line” again. I really admire his courage and his spirit to never give up and never surrender. If we train ourselves to believe that failure is not the end and that we can pick ourselves up and try again, the debilitating fear will un-cloud the road ahead of us. Stay fearless.

  • SUCH a great read Loretta! I’ve been doing some soul searching lately, and I realized that fear was at the heart of a lot of my recent non-action. This was masked as perfectionism, but what is perfectionism really, other than the FEAR of not being perfect? I knew how to beat through the superficial ‘try and try again’ kind of creative failure, but this was something different. I’m still fighting my way out, so thank you for this in-depth mix of other designers and creatives going through a similar thing. Best of luck to your brother too as he makes his way through this tough time. With his determination, I’m sure he’ll have a killer story to tell one day :) xo

    25 August, 2014 at 12:41 pm
  • Great post. It would be interesting to know more about how some of these people overcame their fear or struggle.

    It’s great to here about your brother continuing to pursue his dream job. Finding a “descent paying job” these days is not easy though. You make it sound like it’s no big deal and that anyone can do it. I have friends that have been unemployed for over a year and can’t seem to get a “descent paying job.” I know this was probably not your intention to get people upset but I guess it bugs me a little when I read or hear people say things like that.

    Hope you overcome your struggle soon.

    25 August, 2014 at 2:10 pm
      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I feel like I’m a crappy situation right now (that I was thrown into) and I’m using personal projects to cope with it.

        25 August, 2014 at 7:25 pm