Category Archives: Failure

On Success and Failure

Walker Doll: Success and FailureA lot of graduation speeches are being  made across the country this month.

I’m sure a lot of them are all about success  and failure, and how to achieve one and avoid the other.

What I liked best about the one  I heard at my daughter’s graduation was that it was mostly about failure.  Success and failure are awfully loaded terms, aren’t they? One gets you the ticker tape parade and the best seats in the house; the other leaves you staring at your own toes, left behind while the “cool” people go to the dance. They seem to be mutually exclusive, but in real life I believe they are merely two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one without the other.

So why was a speech about failure so great?

Firstly, it wasn’t all about how great and unique and special each one of the thousands of graduates was, and how they were all destined for greatness. I’m glad we, as parents, were allowed to simply appreciate our kids, whatever their potential. More importantly, it was very real. We all fail. We cannot hope to pass through life from one mountain top or cresting wave to the next.

There are downhill sections of every trail. And frankly, those times are what we  need the caring advice of our elders for!

Not the days when everything is coming up roses or when we get the job of our dreams. But the days when we just KNOW we’re not EVER going to get the job of our dreams (even if we might, actually, some day). Those days are the hard ones. It’s good, at the beginning of a long journey, to see someone we admire admit that they have failed on their journey, not once but many times, and admit that the fear of it still causes nightmares!  And when that someone is practically a synonym for success the way Martin Scorsese is, all the better!

Maybe that speech was more typical of one delivered to graduates of an art school, or maybe not- we are living in times where a gritty realism is appreciated- but I do think that the reframing of failure as a natural part of success is more likely among artists. Failure is where we learn, where we refine our ideas and our ways of communicating them.

An artist sees failure as a necessary element of the rhythm in art making.

Florence Cane, in The Artist in Each of Us, pointed out that there needs to be both active and passive modes in creative work. We need to sit still and consider, ponder, and discern just as much as we need to be engaged in actively applying brush to canvas or hands to clay. I believe we also need to experience what doesn’t work just as much as what does work in order to sustain an artistic process (or a happy life!) over the long term.

If it weren’t for our moments of not-knowing, for our mistakes, we would never experience the magic of serendipity or the glorious surprise of something truly new and unexpected.

If we let go of a narrow definition of failure and start to see it as an enrichment of our knowledge and experience, a re-calibrating of our compass, or a refinement of our technique, we can also transcend our narrow definition of success, and begin to enjoy each moment of our creating, our journey, and our life as the jewel that it is!

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)