Practice Your Tumble
We can agree that failure sucks.
Sometimes it's more or less painful, but I feel confident in saying that no one ever really enjoys it.
I, for one, am the first to admit that I have a particularly hard time with failure.
I'm not graceful. When I fall, I fall hard. On my face. Usually knocking out my teeth.
I think it's because I didn't get a lot of experience with failure as a kid. I wish I had. Maybe it would be easier now if I had. Maybe not. Who knows? One thing is for sure: I take my failures very personally. And sometimes, I take other people's failures personally, too.
Some of us are masochists.
Whether or not you've mastered the art of failing gracefully, we can all agree that it is an unavoidable, uncomfortable part of living a fulfilling life.
For me, my art practice has been an excellent tool in learning to cope with failures. The risks are small, but the emotional investment is still huge. I mean, we're all attached to the things we make, right? At most, they're a reflection of our innermost selves, and at least they're a reflection of our skill in our craft.
But in the end, it's just paper. It's just clay. Artworks are only precious if you've decided they are. Most of the time, we can make the decision to paint over it, paste over it, cut it up, tear it out, or smash it to pieces, and no one will be the wiser. No one need ever see our ugly stuff- our failures.
Bringing this attitude to the other parts of my life isn't as easy... but I'm working on it. Recently, I've been toying with a metaphor that's been helpful to me, and maybe you'll dig it, too.
When we fail, we can respond as a knight in shining armor. We can be as the martyr who, all too readily, will fall on her sword out of a sense of honor, and nobility, and loyalty to the ideals of perfection... and all that good stuff. And while, in certain, specific contexts, this approach can be admirable, I find that it is rarely helpful in my everyday life.
The knight works in absolutes. The knight treats everything very seriously, shoulders the burdens of all her failures with an intensity that is unnecessary outside of a fantasy novel. The knight needs to chill out.
When your bathing suit came down at the middle school swim party and everyone saw?
The knight's response is to become a hermit in the woods and never show her face again. Not helpful.
Alternatively, we can instead approach our failures as the court jester. The jester takes nothing personally. To be the kind of person who can dance around in a leotard with bells on it, people laughing at you all the while- this requires not only bravery but a unique ability to laugh at oneself. People criticize the jester for not taking responsibility... but then, being able to externalize our failures helps us to move on from them.
The jester knows that nothing is precious. The jester runs away from fights she can't win.
Fairy tales will tell us this makes the jester a coward, but that's a lie.
It takes strength to admit defeat. It takes courage to accept our failures and move onto the next project. It takes guts to leave things that are not meant for you.
The jester lives to dance another day. The knight has been impaled.
I have immeasurable respect for people who can admit they're wrong, who can say they've changed their mind, who can leave a failed project and start another with just as much enthusiasm.
I hope to be more like these people.
In the meantime, I'll be practicing my cartwheels in my leotard.
How do you handle failure? Any tips for an aspiring jester?