So you failed.
You wrote an e-book, but if you don’t count your blood relatives, no one bought it. Your book proposal got rejected from your favorite publisher. You didn’t get the job. You bombed an important presentation. You created an e-course, and only a handful of people signed up. You sent pitches to 20 magazines and have yet to hear back from any.
And your inner critic won’t let you forget about it. Your inner critic won’t stop cackling. Your inner critic won’t stop pointing out everything that you did wrong—and all the reasons why you’re wrong.
In their beautiful book Creativity Takes Courage: Dare to Think Differently, Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst include a valuable exercise to help us manage an inner critic that bashes, berates, and fixates on our failures. You can jot down your responses in your notebook.
- When did you fail recently?
- What did your inner critic say after it happened?
- How did this make you feel?
- Write down what actually happened—just the observable facts.
- Remind yourself that everyone fails, and life is a learning process with all sorts of ups and downs. For everyone. Keeping this in mind, what does your inner critic/voice say now?
- How do you feel now?
- Is there a loved one who makes the same kinds of mistakes, but who deals with them in a different (more positive, supportive) way? Can this approach work for you?
- Make a list of kind, comforting activities you can engage in when your inner critic becomes too loud. For instance, you might have lunch with a friend, listen to music, take the afternoon off, or stay in bed with a good book.
Smit and van der Hulst, founders and creative directors of Flow magazine, also include excellent examples of successful people who “failed” in various ways. I love these kinds of stories because they’re so inspiring. They show us that there’s no such thing as perfection or a linear path or a smooth ride—and they underscore the power of perseverance.
For instance, after watching Fred Astaire in an early screen test, one executive wrote: “Can’t sing, Can’t act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little.” Walt Disney was fired by an editor who told him that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times before it was accepted. Since 1962, it’s sold 14 million copies.
If we learn from our failures, they can actually become badges of honor. Because they speak to our dedication, our commitment, our insatiable curiosity, our hard work, our enthusiasm, and – of course – to our humanity.
Keep going. Keep doing. Keep creating.
I know this quote is everywhere, and at this point might even be cliche. But I don’t care. I love it anyway: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~ Thomas Edison
Every misstep, every thing that doesn’t turn out the way we’d hoped and dreamed and planned, provides us with important information. If we listen.
What is your failure trying to teach you? About your current project? About your next step? About forging your own path? About a change you can make? About being kinder to yourself? About persisting?