June 19, 2024

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

- Winston Churchill

Of course, no one likes to fail - but how would it feel to try something new, knowing that failure is a necessary part of the experience, and that it means nothing more than entering new territory and gathering useful information along the way?

Creativity researcher at the University of Karlsruhe, Prof Dr Stephan Sonnenburg, says: "Creativity does not develop in the comfort zone of the known, but where the known meets the unknown."
Failed attempts force us to rethink, to change our perspective. Only then can we learn to leave the beaten track and create something new and exciting.

As an artist, it is the imperfect, the vulnerable that inspires me.
Perfection may be beautiful to look at, but it's not real. It is the perceived flaws that make us unique. Breaks don't have to be the end, they can be the beginning of something new.

It's no different in the creative process - small mistakes, mishaps, moments of failure - they too shape our experience. Like a river that seeks a new path by flowing around obstacles. Therein lies beauty, even greatness, not shame.

Fear of Failure

So why are we so afraid of failure?
I remember, long before I became a working artist, being so paralysed by the fear of wasting my art materials that I didn't make any art at all - as if the materials weren't wasted in the first place because they were sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

Fear of failure is one of the greatest obstacles to our creative fulfilment. It is paralysing because it keeps us in a state of insecurity and self-doubt. Instead of boldly trying new ideas and enjoying our creativity, we retreat - and stay in our comfort zone. The result? We hold ourselves back.

Beauty in the broken

The fear of failure has deep roots - it is seen as a danger to be avoided.

One wrong order from a Roman commander in the Teutoburg Forest and the slaughtering Germanic tribes are already there.
You have to watch out like hell!

It's often no different in today's working world: failure can have serious consequences. In the Central European work culture, companies and employers expect impeccable CVs and see failure as a potential risk. A mistake can lead to a loss of reputation, of the perception of being a competent partner, or even of the job itself, putting one's standard of living at risk.

This is not the case in every culture. But in many that are structured like ours, success is equated with personal worth and social status. Mistakes and failure, on the other hand, are stigmatized and seen as a sign of weakness. We are taught from an early age that mistakes are bad and to be avoided. Our education systems emphasize grades and exams. Students are rewarded for not making mistakes, leading to a culture of perfectionism.

This may have been good for survival, but not for creativity.
An artist is not a soldier in the Teutoburg Forest.

Different Perspectives

Interestingly, there are differences in the way men and women deal with the fear of failure.
Studies show that women are often more affected by the fear of failure and tend to be more cautious and perfectionist. This has to do with social expectations and roles.

In patriarchal societies, women are under pressure not to make mistakes. They have to fight harder and achieve more to be perceived as equals. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be encouraged to take ambitious risks, even if there is a risk of failure.

Why Failure is Important

Failure - the word itself sounds almost brutal. Yet it is an inevitable part of the creative process. Without the courage and risk of going wrong, there is no growth and no innovation. Every creative endeavour holds the potential of not turning out the way we had imagined.

"Creativity also harbours the desire to take risks"

- Stefan Finke

Failures are valuable learning opportunities. They force us to reflect critically and rethink our methods and approaches. We begin to understand what works and what doesn't. This process of continuous learning and adaptation is crucial for creative progress, personal development - and, incidentally, to science, as we continue to falsify ourselves step by step.

Famous People Talking about Failing

Samuel Beckett


"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

J.K. Rowling


"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default."

Robert F. Kennedy


"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

Self-Acceptance, the Foundation of Creative Freedom

So creativity is more - much more! - than a pleasant pastime. It allows us to explore and express the surrounding reality - and ourselves - in ways that are truthful and meaningful.
But it takes courage to develop your own voice. The reward for having the courage to fail is that the artwork that succeeds has an emotional depth and truth that is immediately felt, whether as a realization or as an aesthetic or emotional effect.

We should therefore not allow ourselves to be held back, either by the criticism of others or by our own perfectionism. The prerequisite is self-acceptance - the ability to accept ourselves with all our strengths, as well as our potential for failure.
Self-acceptance is central to creative freedom.

Failing with Style

Don't let yourself be paralysed. These tips can help you.

  1. Allow yourself to make mistakes
    Don't see mistakes as personal failures, but as learning opportunities. Give yourself permission to fail. If it helps, feel free to write it down. Make your permission form beautiful and hang it above your workspace.
  2. Focus on the process
    Don't fixate on the result. Enjoy the creative process and recognize the value of the creation itself. Be open and willing to experiment, which tends to lead to more innovative and original work.
  3. Positive self-talk
    Pay attention to your inner self-talk. Be patient and kind to yourself. Replace negative and critical thoughts with positive and supportive statements. Cheer yourself up a little. Take good care of yourself and pay attention to your needs.
  4. Analyse your failures
    Were they necessary, educational, valuable, and did they help you in any way? Maybe they weren't, maybe they just cost you money and/or time and were otherwise useless. Why? Learn from your mistakes!
  5. Cultivate a Supportive Environment
    Surround yourself with people who nurture your creativity and encourage you.
  6. Take your mistakes in stride
    Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's has a place of honour on its Vermont campus for failed flavours. They are buried in the flavour Graveyard with full honours, including a tombstone.
    That's the way to do it!
    Why not celebrate the idea instead of mourning the failure?

Mistakes as a Stepping Stone

In a world that glorifies perfection and success, it is easy to forget the true value of failure. But it is in creativity that experimenting, daring to try new ideas and accepting mistakes is the key to progress. When we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we open ourselves up to unimagined possibilities.

How do you deal with failure? Do you have any tips? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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About the Author Lea Finke

Lea Finke is an artist with all her soul. In her blog, she talks about inspiration, passion, and encounters with art.

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