As creatives, we tend to avoid failure like the plague.
Because we feel and experience everything deeply (that’s what makes us great artists), we tend to internalize rejection and write it into our stories.
So, instead of staying in action and taking more risks, we often shrink back and play it safe. We settle into a comfortable but ultimately unfulfilling creative life.
But as I’ve discovered, there is incredible power in failure. Let me show you my work.
Big Summer Failure
Though I haven’t talked about it much at all, earlier this summer, I failed big time.
I’d created a “kitchen sink” product for my audience at Music Entrepreneur HQ. Based on all the feedback and comments I’d received over the years I’d put together a program that reflected all the desires of my audience.
I even priced it conservatively, to where the value offered would have far outweighed the asking price.
But there were no takers.
I did a classic three-video “launch” sequence, which I’d had some success with as applied to crowdfunding campaigns (you can learn more about this simple marketing strategy in Jeff Walker’s book, Launch – affiliate link).
I’d put countless hours into video content, daily emails, blog posts and podcast episodes but the product failed to get off the ground.
I can only speculate on what went wrong. Maybe my audience wanted components of the offer, not the whole offer. It could be that they were a little leery of spending money due to present circumstances.
What’s interesting about this failure is I didn’t dwell on it at all. Because I saw the possibility to create something else that actively excited me. If I had it to do over, though, I probably would have taken a bit of a breather after that failure, so that I could have recovered from the exhaustion of hustling for months.
How Many Millionaires…
How many millionaires have built and lost their fortunes repeatedly?
You might be familiar with radio host and financial expert Dave Ramsey. Today, his net worth is said to be $55 million, but yes, he has experience losing it all and gaining it all back.
Author and entrepreneur James Altucher often jokes about going broke, and listening to his podcast, you get the sense that, he takes it all in good humor. He has an alleged net worth of $50 million.
Per Deep Patel, the likes of Martha Stewart, Larry King, and Walt Disney have all gone through similar experiences of losing it all and gaining it back.
And don’t forget inventor Thomas Edison’s famous quote:
I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.
As a creative, we may or may not relate to these examples. What’s important to understand is that even those we think of as our heroes have been rejected and have failed more than we even know.Even those we think of as our heroes have been rejected and have failed more than we even know. Click To Tweet
Don’t compare your blooper reels to another’s highlights. Because millionaires and even billionaires are people just like us.
So, How do I Overcome Failure?
Naturally, the next question that arises is this:
“Okay, but failure still hurts. How do I overcome it?”
But what you may not know is that the very question is flawed. Because it frames failure as something to be overcome.
See, failure is an event, not a sentence. Even more interesting – what might appear as failure to us is a success in another’s eyes.Failure is an event, not a sentence. Click To Tweet
In other words, failure is inside of you. It doesn’t exist outside.
Failure doesn’t need to be overcome.
“But I’m in debt and now I need to pay it back.”
“But I’ve screwed up and lost the trust of my friends and collaborators.”
Try replacing your “but” with “and.”
So, the first sentence would become “I’ve failed AND I’m in debt and need to pay it back.”
Exactly. The two are separate. Failure has nothing to do with events and circumstances. It might seem like semantics but separating the two helps you gain a clearer perspective on what is.
Meaning – failure itself disappears when you understand that an outcome is just an outcome.Failure itself disappears when you understand that an outcome is just an outcome. Click To Tweet
Let what you call “failure” arise within you. Do not escape it. Instead, sit with it. Let it be. If you do this, you will see failure naturally dissolve on its own, all in good time.
When to Quit
Separating failure from outcomes is helpful. Because it leaves you able to act powerfully in the face of whatever you’re dealing with.
But the reality is:
Projects may not take off. Marketing efforts may not lead to desired results. Support may not be forthcoming in the way we envisioned. What do we do with that?
I find it helpful to look at every project as an experiment with rails. Meaning – there are conditions that need to be met within a certain time frame or a measurable output for me to continue working on it.
This shouldn’t apply to hobbies or things you do for fun, because they have their own inherent value, be it relaxation, fulfillment, impact, or otherwise.
But when it comes to anything that is supposed to help you grow your career or business, it’s best to be a little less attached to how worthwhile or fun it is and be a little more data based.
How to Quit Intentionally
Here are some frameworks and mental models that make sense to me:
- If you’re thinking about making something like a blog, a podcast, a YouTube channel, paintings, poems, or otherwise, make 100 of them. That will give you a better sense of whether it’s something you enjoy and whether it will lead to meaningful results (if not, you can quit after 100 and try something else). Great tip via Noah Kagan who calls this The Law of 100.
- Try making something every day for a year. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was said to have written one joke daily and made it his goal to keep the chain going. Today, Seinfeld’s net worth, by the way, is $960 million.
- Read Seth Godin’s The Dip (affiliate link). It’s the best book on the topic of knowing when to quit. And while Godin doesn’t offer any easy answers, his perspective on the matter is sure to open doors for you.
Again, if I am not driving towards a specific result, then starting and quitting isn’t an issue. It’s only in situations where I’m after an outcome that I would put rails around a project.
But I am always on the lookout for mental models on pivoting. I recently heard that in podcasting, the five-year mark is the most critical. My latest podcast will have reached the five-year mark by summer 2021.
If I wake up to discover that it has not reached a new plateau by then, it’s quite likely I will replace it with another project (I had some fun with a newsletter initiative earlier this year, and I might give that another try) that’s more closely aligned with the business results I’m looking to produce.
Do Not Glorify Failure
Leadership expert and author John C. Maxwell said:
Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.
I agree. It’s not good enough to fail early and fail often.
People often say they learn more from their failures than their successes. I don’t buy it.
The more likely outcome, for most, is that they learn nothing from their failures OR successes!The most likely outcome, for most, is that they learn nothing from their failures OR successes! Click To Tweet
We are all going to fail. And that is good. We should fail. Because it’s a valuable feedback mechanism.
But we shouldn’t glorify failure. We should not fail for failure’s sake. We should not fail where success is possible. Because then we are virtually assured, we will learn nothing from the experience.
But we shouldn’t be afraid to fail. We shouldn’t fear anything we are not facing right here in this moment.
Fail forward. Because there is something to be salvaged from every failure. There are resources and connections that can carry over into your next creative venture. And that means you won’t need to start from square one every time you start something new.
Failure, Final Thoughts
Always remember – failure is within. You cannot find it without.
It’s the same with disappointment, frustration, confusion, rejection, or anything else you might feel. You cannot blame anyone or anything for what you feel, because you are the one feeling it.
Failure is not good or bad. It just is.
But in the creative world, it is often thought to be good. Because it means you’ve endured hardship and paid your price. In creative industries, if you have not paid a price, you probably won’t be chosen. Because the titans of the creative industries have endured more hardship than you even know.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.
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