by Cyncie Winter, Creativity Coach
and Professional Artist
Many artists are familiar with the fear of failure. We might ask ourselves what does failure look like in our creative lives?
- Fear of not having our paintings turn out “right”?
- Of not being able to capture the essential essence of what it is that we may be seeing or feeling?
- Of not being able to master a medium?
- Of not having our work accepted by others, or being rejected by galleries or not selling our work in a show?
While fear of failure is a perfectly normal fear, a normal anxiety, it’s essential to learn how to come to grips with it so that we don’t end up getting blocked or stalled in our creative process. And since it is such a common thing to experience, if we realize that is part of our creative process, we can learn how to say hello to the nagging little voices inside that love to terrify us, but then also to say goodbye to them too.
While we probably think of failure as something that is unsavory, we can also learn from it. I’ve just stumbled onto an address that J.K. Rowling gave as the 2008 Commencement speech to Harvard University, on “The Benefits of Failure.” It is a compelling address, in which she brings to home her own profound failures and what she learned from them. Here are some highlights of what she has to say:
—“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
—“Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.”
—“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
— “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
—“Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.”
—“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”
(You can read the speech in its entirety here).
If J.K. Rowling can fess up to the sense of failure she has experienced in her life, she also give us permission to examine our own beliefs about that fear…and perhaps shift them in a way that we no longer see them as burdensome, but possibly hold many gifts in store, waiting for us to discover.
That’s where we can help. And we’d love to do that! To jump start your art career or creative expression, contact us at ArtCoaching for You