Grow Comfortable with Failure to Live a Creative Life

It can be scary to create something meaningful and put it out for the world, –or your mother — to see. The creative process is messy, and at times muddled, but it is also invigorating and important. If you let your fear of failure stop you from creating, you will feel stagnant. If you let the opinions of others, keep you from creating, you’re going to feel trapped, narrow, constrictive.

Creativity is about expression and innovation and expansion. It shapes how we relate to each other, how we solve problems, see beauty, engage in the world. Failure, rejection, criticism, aren’t easy to deal with – and like you, I’ve had a lot of practice. I still don’t like it. But, failure is an important part of the creative process — necessary even — so it helps if we can develop an ease around those things, a familiarity of sorts. Then we can keep living a creative life even when the setbacks show up.

Creativity pastelsThese tips can help:

1. Make mistakes on purpose. We get so caught up in coloring within the lines that we forget real innovation occurs in the midst of our mistakes. Have one day (or more) a month, where you create imperfection on purpose. Make the mess, where the unmatched clothes. Put the cups in the bowl cupboard. Have fun with this. Get silly. Become familiar with the notion that not everything has to be just so for it to be just fine.

2. Practice courage. Courage is a skill that can be enhanced with practice. Start when the stakes are low. Write a silly poem, one that you aren’t too attached to, and share it with your partner. Or take the first run at a painting and show it to someone when it’s incomplete and imperfect. The more often we put ourselves out there on the little things, the more courage we develop to help us express the big ideas.

3. Release from outcomes. When we get caught up in writing a bestseller, or dreams of a gallery show, or a program on the Food Network, the more limited we become in our creative process. If you create with an end-goal in mind, then you wind up trying to fit your work to a market model. This limits the process and  your express and you’re likely to feel tight and disappointed if those aspirations don’t materialize. Creating is about process. About stepping out, letting go, problem solving, developing, expressing, trying, failing, trying again. That is what matters most. That is the most fun. Focus on the process and the outcomes – and what people have to say about it — won’t matter nearly as much. Seriously.

4.  Keep going. If you are engaged in life at all – if you have a job, or parent a child,or have relationships, or cook meals or handle the household budget – you are creating. You are finding ways to navigate through life challenges and that requires our innate creativity. When you reach outside of your comfort zone to express an idea or feeling through paint or clay or words or gardens, or whatever, you are putting yourself out there in a big way and that feels vulnerable. So, do it anyhow. Because that also feels alive and invigorating and satisfying. This is meaningful and we are happier people when we live meaningful lives.

Create any chance you get. Create what you are comfortable with then do what is intriguing but uncomfortable. Try something new and keep going. No matter what drama comes down, no matter what people say, no matter what you assume others think, no matter how hard and busy and fatiguing life gets, keep creating. It is a route to self-understanding, fulfillment, fun. Beyond that, it changes the world for the rest of us.

Be brave. Keep going. In the end the failures and the criticisms and the setbacks and disappointments will simply be stories you tell on others who weren’t brave enough to try.

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