Three Secrets About Failure
Many of us will go to great lengths to avoid failure. We are hard-wired that way. But the successful in our society know three secrets about failure:
1) We can’t truly make progress without risking failure.
2) Failure is a required part of the process on the way to success. It’s so integral to success you might think of it as Success 101. Failure allows you to learn to refine your approach. For the writer, failure, and rising up from it, helps you to find your voice, your audience, and your writing courage.
3) Failure separates the wheat from the chaff. Last week we talked about the Talent Myth and I tried to debunk our infatuation with talent by suggesting it attempts to create meaningless distinctions. But failure? If you want to know who will succeed as an author, use failure as the litmus test. The writer who has an appetite for failure is the one who will find success.
Why is Failure So Hard
Deep in the hearts of many of us is a lurking monster. It whispers ominous messages to us when we are most vulnerable. It tells us we are not good enough.
Our trepidation at confronting this ugly monster and its damning message leads not only to fear of failure but also attendant maladies like self-doubt, perfectionism, and writer’s block.
Failure is devastating because it affirms that what the monster whispers is true. And we can’t afford to believe that. So, instead, we become frozen in inaction where it is safe.
Failure, seen through this lens, is not a one-time event but a statement about our identity. We didn’t simply fail, rather; we are a failure. We can’t face this possibility, so we avoid it at all costs.
Failure is a Requirement
If you plan to publish, I guarantee you will fail. There will be agents who say no. There will be publishers who say no. Even if you self-publish, there will be readers who don’t love your work. And lots of people won’t buy your book. Even your family might not like your work.
Don’t let any of that get you down. If you’re lucky, with a rejection or a two-star rating, you might glean a little useful feedback, but even if you don’t, don’t worry about it. In fact, take your failure as a sign of accomplishment because it is. It shows that you are in the game. You are getting yourself and your writing out there.
That’s a requirement if you want your writing to do anything more than to entertain yourself.
I can tell you how many shots Wayne Gretzky missed in his career—you’ve probably seen that poster too—or how many times publishers rejected J. K. Rowling.
Of course, the answer is: way more than the number of times they scored. But whether it’s hockey or writing, there’s only way to be in the game and that is to occasionally misfire, to lose, to fail. You can’t get around it.
This also includes the minor stuff: the day you missed your writing routine, the scene you had to throw out, the little darlings that you killed. Failure is both a teacher and a requirement on the way to success.
Failure Lies Along the Road to Progress
Failure is an indicator that you are reaching above your current skill level, and that’s the only way to increase your capacity. This includes not just your writing skills, but your skills at managing all of your writing habits, including the way you manage your time, energy, and thoughts about your writing. But take a whole bunch of fails and add them up, and you have the only sure route to success.
When you said you would write after work and didn’t because you felt too tired, that’s a failure and also an opportunity to look at what went wrong. If you decide not to write AND you beat yourself up for not having enough discipline, that will help nothing. But if you say to yourself, okay, I’m trying something new and it didn’t work today, but this is an opportunity to gather insight and learn so I can do it better tomorrow.
For example, here are some questions I might ask a client who didn’t write after work because she was too tired:
Where did you spend your energy today? Did you ignore the part of your routine where you take a brisk walk to reinvigorate yourself? Did your avoidance of conflict get you in trouble at work and now your psychologically drained?
By reflecting on these issues, my client has a chance to convert a failure into a temporary setback, to use it as an opportunity to do better the next day.
Questions for Reflection
So, when you’re confronted with a fail in your writing practice, ask yourself:
- What priority do I want to give my writing?
- Am I honoring it?
- Do I like the decisions I’m making?
- What am I making this situation mean?
- What can I learn from this situation?
- Will that help me progress with my craft?
- What’s a better thought?
Grab the free exercise below to help you process your failures:
One of the fundamental things that we fear about failure is how it will make us feel. Failure might inspire thoughts that make you feel disappointed or inadequate. That’s uncomfortable. But, as my coach likes to say: discomfort is the currency of our dreams. In a future article, I’ll provide some tips about how to navigate the discomfort of our emotions. But for now, just embrace the discomfort and know that you are headed in the right direction.
Share in the comments: what failure are you looking forward to?
Still trying to wrap your head around how you’re supposed to embrace failure? Schedule time for a free discussion here.
I’m Kira Swanson, a mindset coach for writers. I help writers master their mental game so that they can focus on what they love: writing. I help my clients to tap their inner source of motivation and inspiration, create the time to write, and quash the self-doubt that plagues so many creatives so that they can finally finish that draft.