You Cannot Succeed Without Failure

It is a mistake to suppose that men [or women] succeed through success; they much oftener succeed through failures. Precept, study, advice, and example could never have taught them so well as failure has done.

Samuel Smiles (1812–1904), Scottish author and reformer

“You cannot succeed without failure,” or so they say. It is difficult to imagine future success when all you can see if the heap of terrible business decisions you have made piled up around you. “How will I dig myself out of this?”

So, I’ve made some pretty impressive mistakes lately. One was keeping my client in the dark. Like any relationship, good, honest communication is the key to its success. I was so optimistic that the solution to the problem that I encountered was right around the corner. “Any day now,” I thought to myself as more and more time went on. And days turned into weeks, weeks into months and my client started to wonder what happened to me. I wanted so badly to give them good news that I gave them no news at all. And that hurt our relationship.

I also didn’t ask for what I really needed. Again, my dangerous optimism told me, “We can make this work with what we have.” The reality of the situation was that I could not make it work with what I had; it was just not possible. I ran the numbers again and again. Arithmetic is not optimistic or pessimistic. It just is.

Finally, I did not form a good team at the outset. One of the things I love most about my work is the team. In the past, I have had people helping me at all the stages of the work: building armatures, models, a mold-maker, a crew of talented stone-carvers, sculpture riggers, import/export agent, and, of course, the client. I have been trying to assemble a great team in the middle of the game and it’s been a lot tougher than I imagined, especially now that I live very far away from anywhere else.

So, how will I dig myself out of all of this mess?

Vincent van Gogh, 1885
chalk on paper
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

First of all, apologize. I messed up. It was me; I cannot blame anyone else for my failures. And I’m really, really sorry.

Then ask, “How can I make this right?”

There may be a way to remedy the situation and there may not be. Sometimes you will have to walk away from the mess.

How will I do better next time?

I will be completely honest about how things are going in the studio from now on, which means I may have to check some of my optimism at the studio door. Good or bad news, the artist-client relationship is too important to neglect. I need to offer frequent updates, “Things aren’t going well right now and this is what I am doing to remedy the situation.” No matter the project, things happen. Kids get sick, deliveries don’t arrive on time, and armatures can heave beneath the weight of the clay, and so on.  Things can also go really well; share that as well!

I will ask for what I need from the outset. And run it by other professionals to make sure that I have not forgotten anything.

I will assemble a great team. After all, it’s one of the best parts of the process!

Final Thoughts

Fear of failure is possibly one of the most paralyzing fears on the planet. It is responsible for keeping a tremendous amount of artwork from ever making it into the world. It holds us back from going after what we really want. When you push through that fear, do the work, and fail anyway, most of the time, the sun still rises. It can be incredibly powerful that even when you do fail, you can get up the next day. It is hard; it hurts; you have to grieve it, but you can recover from it. And you will grow in courage.

Further Reading

I really love Michael Hyatt’s blog and especially this post on failure: Turning Failure to Your Advantage.

I’m also a member of Alyson Stanfield’s Artist Conspiracy.  She take a no excuses approach to running a studio as a viable business. She teaches that are all each responsible for our own careers, including our failures. They don’t have to sink us, though.

What about you? Is a fear of failure holding you back? Have you made any monumental mistakes that have been a turning point in your career?

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