Run towards it and embrace it
On Facebook my business partner, Leigh, posted a question:
Imagine success is guaranteed!
What is your biggest hairy scary goal?
She’s posted variations of this question before and people respond like mad. They’d jump start their art business. They’d line up commissions. Apply to be in juried museum shows. The list goes on.
The sad thing is none of these dreams are actually unreachable.
What gets in the way is the fear of failure. What if you show up, do the work and don’t sell a thing? What if no one likes your work? What if you’re laughed out of the museum?
Ok so yes, it’s a big so what. I get it. I held my own art career back because I was afraid rejection and failure would shut me down. I was afraid I’d lose confidence and that would be the end of me.
Turns out, rejection and failure wasn’t the end of me at all! And in fact, embracing the risk of failure (and actual failure) just made me more courageous in the process. And every success had me reach greater heights and every failure had me examine my direction and adjust course as needed.
The thing is, we’re taught from an early age that failing at something puts you at risk for being ostracized by your peers. Think back to your early school days, how the kids would laugh and taunt if someone screwed up. No one wanted to be that kid, but someone always was that kid.
Standing in front of the class doing a presentation, you didn’t want to mess up a thing and so the fear ran deep and stuck. We carry that into adulthood. And yes, adults laugh and point in their own ways. It feels the same, though it’s decidedly not.
If success were guaranteed, what would you do?
Seriously think about this. And then consider, if failure was a possibility, would you still do the thing?
I could go on about how nothing is guaranteed in life. We’ve all heard that trite crap before. That’s nothing new. But consider this: when you try and fail you still have opportunities for learning and growth. That failure itself isn’t a complete thing. End of the road. Give up. Go home.
If you fail at selling your art, it doesn’t mean you should curl up and die. You have opportunities to learn about resilience. To learn about how much you actually want to be an artist. To learn about where your gaps in knowledge are and fill them.
If your first book fails to sell, or sell well, you have still learned how to write and publish a book. You’ve learned what doesn’t work for marketing. You’ve learned how to dig deep personally to get something huge done (and writing a book is a big fucking deal).
If you apply to have your art included in a show and failed, you’ve learned how to apply to shows. You’ve learned where you could improve. Maybe you’ve learned, sadly, that some parts of the art world are biased and based on things other than skills. Maybe you’ve learned that shows aren’t for you, or you’ve doubled down to try harder on the next one.
In none of these cases are you required to pack it all in and go do something else. Maybe you lick your wounds. Maybe you pause to be gentle with yourself.
In none of these cases, hopefully, you don’t have people pointing at you and laughing.
And if you do… well those people absolutely do not belong on your life. I don’t care who they are, if they are standing between you and the thing you’re called to do, they need to go. These people don’t want what’s best for you, they just don’t want to feel bad because they didn’t follow their own path. Not your problem.
Failure is going to happen. It has happened throughout your life. It’s a fact of life. When you own that and see it for what it is — opportunity for learning and growth, it no longer stands in your way.
It’s a dear friend, a guide, a teacher and when you embrace failure you embrace possibility.
Because if you don’t try at all, or only try when success is guaranteed, you will have done much worse than failing. You’ll have ignored your calling. And that is a loss not only for you, but for who you might have become.