Munch. Despair. 1894. Wikimedia Commons.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
- Fear Of Failure.
Outburst of Fear. Paul Klee. Wikioo.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
Fearing failure often means that we do not embark on anything new, or that we avoid any kind of risk-taking.
Our concerns about failing are most often to do with a fear of shame and humiliation, loss of face, loss of confidence, feeling stupid, being a disappointment and a letdown to others and feeling worthless, a loser, useless, and so on… and on…
Failed Again. Aleksey Korin (1891)Wikimedia Commons.
“Every great cause is born from repeated failures and from imperfect achievements.”
This image- and its rather damning title- graphically depicts many people’s worst fears about failure.
Repeated failures can, indeed, leave us feeling low in morale and very discouraged.
To feel labelled ‘a failure,’ by ourselves and, sadly, sometimes by others, is a depressing prospect.
It is thus not surprising that a fear of failure can ultimately result in an underestimation of our own abilities and leave us feeling lacklustre, apathetic and demotivated.
Holding onto an awareness that failure can be a powerful teacher, tough though it may be, is hard to do.
As the quotation above tells us, the greatest of achievements have been realised only after many encounters with failure.
Perhaps after we have experienced what feels like a failure, or several, we may need a friend to remind us of this important fact and help us to regain a sense of self-worth.
Friends. David Davidovich Burliuk. Wikioo.
“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”
- How Can We Learn From Failure?
Léon Bonvin – Still Life with Cruets and Vegetables. 1863. Wikimedia Commons.
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour.”
“Learning starts with failure; the first failure is the beginning of education.”
The above quotations clearly state that failure can be a learning experience, and that it can make success feel even better, adding ‘spice’ to it.
How- and what- can we learn from not being successful?
Failure is hard in any context, whether it happens at work, in sport or games, in a relationship, academically, or in any other situation.
It is a painful reminder of the fact that we are only human.
“The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
The important point here is that we can learn from mistakes and failure, but only if we are open to such learning.
If we are able to absorb their lessons, these experiences can enrich our awareness and strengthen our spirit to keep going.
Repeated failure may mean we need to reflect, engage in serious introspection, and then decide whether we are going in the right direction for ourselves.
In this way, failure can promote new beginnings.
We will learn that failure can motivate us to review, reassess, and be more flexible and open-minded in relation to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
With a fresh attitude, we may discover new approaches, capabilities and skills that we had not previously considered.
Failure can actually inspire us to do better next time and to try to identify and eliminate our mistakes.
We learn from failure that it is important not to be stuck in repetitive, outmoded patterns of thinking, being and doing; change can lead to creativity and innovation.
Having said that, whilst we may be motivated to work through our failures towards success, there are no absolutes and, no matter how hard we try, we will never achieve a perfect outcome.
‘I’ll Try.’ Harold Copping.Wikioo.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
- The Concept Of Failure In Creativity
Perfection issues are highly relevant in the process of creativity.
Cubist Self-Portrait. Salvador Dali.Wikioo.
“I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.”
How many times do our creative efforts disappoint us, and our writing, our painting, our attempts to achieve in work projects, frustrate us, because their outcomes are not as we had hoped!
Munch. The Scream. Wikimedia Commons.
“You can’t succeed at a work of art unless you dance with failure.”
Water Lilies. Claude Monet. Wikimedia Commons.
“My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.”
An exhibition at the Tate, which focussed on the concept of failure, (‘The Art Of Failure, 2018) included the artwork below, about the impossibility of perfection:
Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (Perfect Lovers)1987-91. Wikimedia Commons.
” …..a pair of cheap battery-operated clocks that inevitably will fail to keep the same time……The ‘perfection’ lies in the failure of accuracy; anything else would be romantic fiction. Like these out-of-sync clocks, human beings are all fallible; perhaps this is most explicitly revealed to us in how we understand the past – that is, through memory and imagination. Here failure abounds.”
The process of being creative, in whatever area, always involves periods of ‘failure,’ which can, as we have seen, form a vital part of learning, productivity and discovery.
Trying to achieve perfection will be counter-productive.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
However, paradoxically, there is beauty in imperfection, for ….. “That’s where the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen.)
Randalf Dilla. Atelier. 2012.Wikimedia Commons.
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
Leonid Pasternak. The Passion of Creation. Wikimedia Commons.
“You fail only if you stop writing.”
“You never fail unless you stop trying.”
Error On Green. Paul Klee. Wikioo.
“Sometimes we may learn more from a man’s errors, than from his virtues.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The artistic term ‘ the happy accident’ refers to mistakes that can be beneficial, ‘errors’ that can be transformed into something creative and innovative.
(I am fairly sure the birds in the image below were not a ‘happy accident. But who knows? A careless yellow smudge may have become a bird!)
Paul Klee. Landscape with Yellow Birds (1923)Wikimedia Commons
“Ever make mistakes in life? Let’s make them birds. Yeah, they’re birds now.”
Failure is also an important part of the process of scientific invention and experimentation.
Edison Mazda. Stuart Davis. Wikioo.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Edison had actually been told at school that he was ‘too stupid to learn anything.’ Einstein failed his first entrance exam to the Zurich Polytechnic.
Both had experienced failures on their way to achieving greatness.
Albert Einstein. Max Liebermann. Wikioo.
“Failure is success in progress.”
These quotations by Edison and Einstein are actually examples of ‘reframing.’
This is a term that refers to a therapeutic approach used to change unhelpful ways of thinking.
It aims to promote a more constructive and productive attitude so that we can look at issues in a different light and from a fresh perspective.
In both quotes, the concept of ‘failure’ is reframed to become far less of a ‘blank wall,’ dead-end, no-hope kind of experience.
The concept has been redefined as part of the process of moving towards a successful outcome.
Reframing is not a way of being unrealistically positive, but a constructive manner of reinterpretation in a reasonable and practical way.
Obviously, this technique needs to be used sensitively in therapy, in terms of appropriateness, relevance and timing.
It is important that it does not function as a distraction from patients’ real pain and their need to recognise and stay with the distress of feeling a ‘failure.’
- Silver Linings: When Good Comes Out Of Bad.
Edward Seago. Sunlight after Storm, Windsor.Gandalf’s Gallery ,Flickr.
“I want to thank failure.
You taught me resilience.
You taught me to hope.
But most importantly
you taught me that things
will not always go my way.
Failure is growth.”
Failure is temporary and is, inevitably, part of the process of achievement.
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”
- Keeping On Keeping On.
Dark Blue Turban (Helene with Dark Blue Turban) by Alexei von Jawlensky. Wikimedia Commons.
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Thomas A. Edison
Acrobat Falling. Everett Shinn. Wikioo.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Those who have succeeded in their efforts, even those possessing true genius, often say that it is still their staying power, resilience and hard work that got them there.
Edgar Degas. Melancholy. Wikimedia Commons.
“Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success. Listen, learn, go on.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“Doggedness depends on emotional traits – enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks – above all else.”
Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”
With continued diligence and some past results and successes, we will also likely develop the self-esteem and confidence to know that we can succeed eventually and that what we are doing is valuable and appreciated by others.
“It is not the failure that holds us back but the reluctance to begin over again that causes us to stagnate.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
We can then learn to offer ourselves the requisite care and comfort to carry on during difficult times.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”
Mary Anne Radmacher
The following lines beautifully express the struggle to ‘keep on keeping on:’
“To take one step is courageous;
to stay on the path day after day,
choosing the unknown, and facing
yet another fear, that is nothing
short of grace.”
Danna Faulds, Sangha
- Taking Responsibility
“I saw all the caution signs
and the ones that
kept telling me to
I ignored all the signs
right in front of me,
and then blamed the Universe
for trying to take me down
with no warning.”
Blaming others for our own failure may make us feel slightly better temporarily, but, unless we can look at our part in failure, we will continue to repeat, to our own detriment, the same old destructive patterns.
“The only person who cannot be helped is that person who blames others.”
“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”
- Overlooking The Successes.
The Fall of Icarus. Picasso. Wikioo.
“I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.”
How easy it is to remember only our failures and to overlook the good things and the successes in our life….
“Focus on the possibilities for success, not on the potential for failure.”
The story of Icarus, among other life lessons, gives us an illustration of this human tendency to overlook success.
“I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, “don’t try to fly too high,’ or whether it might also be thought of as “forget the wax and feathers, and do a better job on the wings.”
We generally associate Icarus, not with the amazing achievement of flying out of his prison, but instead with his failure to maintain this flight, through flying too near to the sun, which melted the wax on his wings.
Of course, he became over-confident, which led to his downfall, but he still needs to be ‘remembered’ in a less one-sided way.
The cautionary tale about Icarus is necessary and important – ‘Don’t get too big for your boots’ – but this also needs to be tempered with an awareness that he was not a total ‘failure.’ He could fly!
“Icarus flew too close to the sun, but at least he flew.”
Jeremy Robert Johnson
Interestingly, I have found it difficult to find a painting of Icarus flying. The focus of many artworks is on his fall.
Icarus. Henri Matisse. Wikioo.
“Everybody forgets that Icarus also flew.”
Odilon Redon. Icarus. c 1890. Wikimedia Commons.
“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”
- Trusting The Process
Sunset, Gray Blue High Tide. Felix Vallotton. Wikioo.
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you … never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Trusting the process of life takes some realistic optimism and understanding that nothing lasts forever, difficult times will pass, and things will, hopefully, become easier.
This is, obviously, not always the case, but it does often happen that, in time, things become resolved.
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Robert F. Kennedy
🐝🐝 I dreamt — marvellous error! — that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey 🐝🐝 from my old failures.” 🐝🐝
© Linda Berman.🐝
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