This Is How You Beat Failure And Find The Razor’s Edge Between Disaster And Perfection

I’ve been thinking about a post for the past couple of hours. There are different avenues I can go, but instead of hitting those, I’m choosing to write on something whimsical–ooh…

Why We’re All Afraid Of Failure

My day job is in education. And one of the most difficult things about it is to see what learning is (mis)construed to be, and what it actually is. I read an article today that children’s imagination is taught out of them by a system that is test-based and self-perpetuating. There is a well-known longitudinal study done on creativity, presented by Sir Ken Robinson in a famous TEDTalk, that showed that the longer one stays in school, the more one’s creativity is arrested. One of the main reasons is that students are taught linear rather than divergent thinking (one way in which creativity is measured). But another reason is that students are not taught to risk. As children we’re taught to play it safe, stay organized, don’t risk, and whatever you do don’t fail!

In watching the Mogul competition last night on the Olympics, a maxim struck me that I can’t get out of my head: The closer one gets to disaster, the closer one gets to perfection.

Creative Versus Karaoke Culture

It reminds me of a talk I heard once by the contentious Malcolm McLaren, called Authentic Creativity and Karaoke Culture. He was recounting his first day in art and design school. His instructor, disheveled and bearded, sat down and asked, “Who here wants to be a successful designer?” A group of young students raised their hands. The instructor’s response: “Then there’s the door–because everyone knows that as an artist it’s much better to be a glorious failure than any banal success!”

The closer to disaster, the closer to perfection.

Do you ever just dive into something without looking before you leap?

Do you ever just follow a hunch not knowing where it’s taking you?

Do you ever get off track, run the car off the pavement and off-road it for a while pushing the machine to its limits on unfamiliar terrain?

If You’re Working On Something That’s A Struggle, It’s Probably The Right Thing

My writing coach is amazing–it’s Steven Pressfield (though he doesn’t know it). I get his weekly newsletters. He writes the Wednesday posts, and he has a team of writers contribute the other days. There was one post–it wasn’t written by Pressfield–that struck me, and that came to my inbox right when I needed it. I don’t remember the specifics of it, but the main message was that if you’re writing something that is nothing but a struggle, that you have no handle on where it’s going, and that you want to quit writing every other day, then that’s the book you have to write.

Why?

Because you’re taking the risk, you’re hitting that tension between disaster and perfection, and in so doing, you are digging deep into yourself and pulling something out that is unique to who you are.

It’s that razor’s edge between disaster and perfection–it’s the sweet spot of creativity.

But let’s not be melodramatic here. The great disaster, the glorious failure, is really just a piece of paper. When you crash and burn, simply pick up a new snowy white sheet, and begin again.

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