Structures #150 – In progress
Learning from Failure
A few weeks back, Alyson Stanfield had an interesting discussion on failure on her blog.
It was a question for her deep thought Thursday that I sent to Alyson after hearing a panel discussion about failure in art.
They asked the panel this question “Is failure in your art practice something to be embraced, managed, or forgotten?”
The answers given by the panelist were uninteresting and forgotten.
The answers given in Alyson’s blog post were essentially one of the following 2 answers:
- I learn from my failures.
- I don’t believe in failure – I just do something else when things don’ work out as planned.
Alyson wrote a follow up post today and she selected answer #2 by saying “The only failure is not trying your best.”
In my opinion these 2 answers are the same answer.
I think it is a question of semantics if you call it failure or something else (things not going as planned, things not going as well as you wanted, etc) but both groups are saying that when things don’t work out they just try something different.
It’s a great answer.
It was the answer I gave (using version #1). It is, of course, the correct answer.
Right – because who wants to admit that when ‘things don’t go well’ it derails them or they give up?
Noone. Cause that sounds like a weakness.
It sounds like, well, failure.
So here’s the thing.
Yes – most of the time when things don’t go well I just do something else. I’ve read that chapter of the self help book and I know the drill.
But sometimes failure knocks me on my butt. I become completely derailed. I do nothing. I get stuck. I dwell. I procrastinate. I do nothing.
According to Alyson’s definition “The only failure is not trying your best” - I reach true failure.
Like right now.
It happened earlier this year. I designed this gorgeous 5′x10′ textile painting – Structures #150. I had it 1/3 of the way quilted. I spent hours and weeks in my studio making the thing.
I sent a video of the work in progress to my collectors mailing list. It was the biggest piece I’ve made to date and I was in love with it.
I was suffering a serious case of the Ikea Effect because I’d spent 60 or 70 hours on this thing. And right? – anything I put that much time into had to be good!!
Yet in the back of my mind I knew something was wrong.
Fortunately my son, who has a brilliant eye, said something. Something like “I don’t think this works”.
He was right. And I knew he was right.
So I did exactly what I said I do. I went right to work fixing it.
Derailed by Failure
At least I started fixing it. And then I went to Italy.
When I got home the big
failure not successful pieced loomed in my studio and it drained my energy.
So I came up with excuses for avoiding my studio. And my blog, and a lot of things. Except facebook. I got really good at facebook.
It has now been 4 months and I’ve worked in my studio very little since my return from Italy.
I have a zillion rational excuses but I know very clearly what the problem is. And it drains me to think about it.
The Interesting Part of the Question
For 1/4 of this year I have been derailed by something not working out.
Call it failure, call it whatever you want – but it sucks.
When things don’t work out there is a period of time between them not working out and us getting back on track and trying something new.
Because for the most part we all do get back on the bike and ride away.
Sometimes it takes just minutes. Sometimes it takes hours.
In this cases, it’s taking months.
For some people it can be years.
So in my opinion the interesting part of the failure question: what do you do in between?
In between recognizing it didn’t go well and then doing something positive about it.
To me this is where we start getting really vulnerable and authentic. This might require admitting weakness.
This could mean admitting that the self help books don’t always help us.
Maybe for some of you, this time in between is never more than a minute. Or an hour. Or maybe even a day. Maybe you say you don’t recognize failure because you never get derailed.
My hats off to you.
For everyone else – what do you do? Where does your mind go when you know you should be moving forward but instead you are dwelling on the past? How do you deal with that time in between? How do you get back on the horse?
I Have No Answers
Me – I obviously have no answers for how to always deal with “things not going well” successfully.
I know what I’m supposed to do. But I don’t do it.
Instead I watch a lot of netflex and wait it out.
As does chocolate.
Nor Do I Need Answers
A small update written the morning after…
I’m not asking for answers or help by posting this. Nor am I giving answers.
I think I’m just wanting to recognize that when people go around saying they don’t believe in failure or that they just get up and try something else when they fail a large part of the story is missing. Because this time in between is where the juicy stuff is.
This is where we are uncomfortable. This is where we struggle.
And it is because of this discomfort, I think we want to cover it up. It’s why I lied. It’s uncomfortable to admit I can’t be positive and moving forward all the time.
Its also uncomfortable to be around someone that is stuck. People want to offer advice. But the problem is – the advice often comes out as empty platitudes.
It’s not like we don’t know all the right things to do when we are stuck – it’s not like we hadn’t thought “gosh – maybe I should just go make more art” – we know this.
Thing is – we don’t do it. We are derailed. If we weren’t the advice to “learn from our mistakes and move on” would already be in action.
So this post is about recognizing that life is sometimes just messy. It’s not perfect.
And it’s okay that it’s like this.
We don’t always need solutions. Sometimes we just need acknowledgement that we aren’t alone.
PS – this is a bonus of staying off of facebook – having more time to write long blog posts.