I once received a proverb from a fortune cookie that read, “Everybody loves progress but nobody likes change.” That’s something that’s proven true again and again in both my personal and professional life. Every time we want to reach for something, we are confronted with the possibility of failure and the paralyzing fear that often comes with that possibility. So how can we manage that fear? How can we acknowledge the possibility that our efforts may crumble but still strive for what we want? I don’t believe in definitive, one-size-fits-all answers because we all wrestle with very individual amalgams of inner tensions, insecurities, hopes, dysfunctions and past experiences, but I found this series of insights on the fear of failure from various creatives very inspiring and illuminating. The series was curated by the Berghs School of Communication for their 2011 symposium on the fear of failure:
During 4 days, between 26-29th of May, we dissect, discuss, learn and listen how overcoming the fear of failure is the only path to take if you’re aiming for success.
As part of the exhibit, the students asked several well-known creatives in various fields to send back video responses in which they discuss the fear of failure. Below are some of my favorites, but be sure to check out the Bergs School of Communication Vimeo channel to browse the full collection of responses.
PAULO COEHLO – BE AUTHENTIC
“I sit down, I breathe and I say, “I did my best, I put all my love, I did it with all my heart. So whether they’re going to like it or not, it is irrelevant. Because I liked it. I’m committed to the thing that I did.” And so far, nobody has ever refused it or criticized it or anything. Because when you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they realize that it is there. That you did this with your body and soul. So what I encourage you to do is this and don’t worry about the fear of failure, it is a human feeling. The important thing is to move beyond this fear and to do what you think you should do.”
STEFAN SAGMEISTER – CULTIVATE A BIAS TO ACTION
REI INAMOTO – DEVELOP SELF-AWARENESS
SARAH MOON – REFRAME
“The failure I want to talk about is the one that comes from one’s own demand, the one that never leaves you in peace, the one that is supposed to be the contrary of success but here again, what does success mean? In my view, it hasn’t got much meaning, it is more about achievement in the sense of doing as much as you can. That’s what success should be. So fear of failure, at the end, can be a good natural instinct that allows you to make mistakes, and that therefore, find a new road and maybe, a surprise.”
MILTON GLASER – CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET, BE T-SHAPED, WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK: WHAT WOULD PICASSO DO?
“The consequence of specialization and success is that it hurts you. It hurts you because it basically doesn’t aid in your development. The truth of the matter is that understanding development comes from failure. People begin to get better when they fail—they move towards failure, they discover something as a result of failing, they fail again, they discover something else, they fail again, they discover something else. So the model for personal development is antithetical to the model for professional success. As a result of that, I believe that Picasso is the most useful model you can have in terms of your artistic interests. Because whenever Picasso learned how to do something, he abandoned it. And as a result of that, in terms of his development as an artist, the results were extraordinary. It is the opposite of what happens in the typecasting for professional accomplishment.”
“One question is, what are you afraid of? Is it the condemnation of others—if you do something and it is inadequate is the criticism of critics and other experts and even your friends and relatives that embarrasses you, that makes you unwilling to go forward? Of course, there’s also in professional life the fear is that you won’t get anymore work because visible failure is a detriment, people think, and perhaps correctly, that you don’t know what you’re doing. So there is that inhibiting factor. Another one that may be more profound and more interesting is our own self criticism. A characteristic of artistic education, is for people to tell you that you’re a genius, and that you’re an artistic genius, and that you’re a creative genius. And so everybody gets this idea if they go to art school that they’re really a genius. Sadly, it isn’t true. Genius occurs very rarely. So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you’re not a genius, that you’re not as good as you thought you were. And doing a project that is truly complex and difficult tests your real ability and since we all have a sensitive ego, alas, within our confident facade, the thing that we most fear in regard to failure is our own self-acknowledgement that we really don’t exactly know what we’re doing. There’s only one solution, and it relates to what I was saying earlier, you must embrace failure, you must admit what is, you must find out what you’re capable of doing and what you’re not capable of doing. That is the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure because otherwise you simply will never subject yourself to the possibility that you are not as good as you want to be, hope to be, or as others think you are. But that is, of course, delusional. So my advice, finally, about fear of failure, which is a kind of romantic idea, there’s only one way out—embrace the failure.”
[Hat Tip: Famous Creators on the Fear of Failure via Brainpickings]