Most of us fear failing. We often avoid taking a risk because we don’t want to fail and feel bad about ourselves. This is a deep seated behavior that is hard for most of us to overcome. Fear of failing can paralyze us.
But I feel that, if you are an artist, you do not have the luxury of always playing it so safe you can never fail.
Most of us fear failure in most things. Maybe almost as much as we fear public speaking.
Are you a perfectionist? Are your expectations so high that you cannot try new things for fear that you might not do a good job? Does even thinking about the possibility of failing give you rapid heart rate, chest tightness, trembling, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating?
Or, sorry I’m getting very personal with myself now, are you afraid you are a fake? That you are not good enough or able to do what you profess to do?
Do not believe the labels other people want to put on you. They are quick to want to do it. Did you get rejected for that exhibit you applied for? It doesn’t mean you are a failure. Did a gallery reject you? They were just looking for something else. You can’t really be a failure unless you accept that you are.
Not getting the recognition or sales we are seeking hurts. Being rejected by the ones we seek approval from is painful and discouraging.
We have to have a core of confidence in our ability that will keep us going. Our belief in our self must be stronger that the negative messages we get from the outside. Otherwise we will either give up or we will believe that our art is not worthwhile the way we want to do it and we will change to try to become someone else’s idea of an artist. That is living a lie.
We must persist. There are very few true “overnight successes”. Here are some examples from authors. They seem to keep score more.
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers.
John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by 16 publishers before he decided to get an agent. The agent eventually rejected him as well.
Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfeld and Mark Victor Hansen, was rejected 140 times.
Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times.
These are just anecdotes, data points. Your mileage will vary. But isn’t it great that these people persisted despite what must have seemed like overwhelming failure?
Perhaps your expectations are wrong. Maybe you won’t be the next Joe McNally. There are very few of them.
It could be time to change your metrics. Are you defining success as huge sales? Is success for you to be rock star-famous or published in National Geographic? Try looking at it in terms of the satisfaction you get from what you create. Whether you get fame or rejection, the inner evaluation of your art is your own.
Maybe the failures are a necessary part of our growth and maturing. They can reinforce our will to succeed and our belief in our self. It is part of growing up as an artist.
I’m kidding, right? Who in their right mind would seek failure?
Well, when we put ourself out there, that is giving the world an opportunity to reject us. To consider us a failure. We have to do it, to persist, to accept that the rejection will come because we need to have our art seen.
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath
We should embrace the rejections and failures as steps along the way. It is never fun or easy, but we need to get used to it. Keeping on trying even after rejections helps us overcome fear of failure. If we retreat into our shell and refuse to try anymore we will consider ourselves failures. We will believe that self-talk.
Plus, we learn from the experience.
Learn from failure
Whenever we are learning something challenging there is a time of testing ourselves to see if we are getting it. If we are studying math, we solve problems and take tests. If we are learning Karate we spar and go through testing to measure our proficiency. When we are learning music we are asked to do recitals to demonstrate our capability. The exercises develop our skill and the tests not only prove our ability, they develop our mental toughness.
If we never confront our fears we will never know what we are and what we are capable of. This is easier for some of us than others. It is pretty hard for me. I don’t like it. But I force myself to keep on. I may grumble and be in a bad mood for a while after getting a rejection, but I know I have to keep on.
Perhaps the real thing we are learning is how much we believe in our self. Do we consider our art worthwhile and worth the pain?