Monday, May 5, 2014

The greatest teacher you will ever know

There is an unconfirmed quite attributed to Thomas Edison which you may have heard in the past in which he was asked about his many failures in creating the light bulb.  One version of that quote is, "I have not failed.  I have learned 2000 ways not to make a light bulb."

Failure, by it's very definition, is seen as a negative thing by many people.  However for the creative people of the world, it is likely the greatest teacher they will ever know.  When you succeed in doing something, what you have mainly learned to do is succeed in doing one thing.  Success doesn't cause you to look at what you've done and analyze what the best and the worst parts of your actions.  Success doesn't cause you to look at what you've done and find something that you could be doing better.  You've succeeded, that's the best you can do, right?

The biggest hurdle is that failure is a great teacher, but it is also a cryptic one.  Figuring out the lessons of your failures is no easy task.  To be able to learn from our failures, we need to be able to decode those teachable moments hidden within them.  There are many challenges in overcoming and learning from your failures, but I've outlined a few things to remember along the way.

#1: You are not your failure.
This is probably the most important, in my eyes, and something that is quite easy to forget.  We spend so much time and energy in our designs and creations, that when they don't work, we easily internalize that failure.  You must always remember that you are not your failure.  You are the person who is trying to create something that others will love, or succeed in doing something that others will not.  There aren't any directions to follow along the way, so you're bound to make some wrong turns.

#2: Failure is not an absolute.
Just because something did not work overall, does not mean that there were not successful parts hidden within.  Make sure that you are analyzing exactly what you did like, and exactly what you didn't like.  Specifics are very important, don't use broad brush strokes across the entire project.

#3: Remember what you are trying to accomplish.
It is very easy to get caught up in changing your project based on feedback.  But remember that you had a vision when you started this journey.  Don't allow others to steer you too far from that vision.  You are the biggest source of inspiration and energy behind your project.  No one else is going to love or care this project the way you do.  Use that energy to keep yourself going through all of the failures because the destination is worth it.

#4:  It's okay to let go.
This is going to seem counter-productive in a post otherwise focused on telling you to dust yourself off and get back on the horse, but if you have repeatedly placed all of your energy into a project and failed numerous times with no small successes along the way, it's okay to move on.  This should not be an easy decision, and it should not be taken just because the next step is a difficult one, but any creator will tell you that there are plenty of projects that they have abandoned over the years.  The key is making sure that you've learned everything you can from them along the way.

The greatest creators of our time are also some of the biggest failures of our time.  But history remembers the success, not the failures of those who dare to step outside of the box.  So be bold enough to fail every day, feel free to share some of your best failures in the comments below.