Failure, Fear, Rejection and Resilience

Creative people are afraid of failure, and too often we fear our creative process and creative ability. In the last two weeks I’ve explored this in: Why Are Creative People Afraid of Failure and Creative People: Fear Not.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me explain. There is too much; let me sum up.”

Every writer and creative person will define it differently, but at the core, failure is a sense of inability to reconcile the imagined world and the real world, seeing the shortfall between the expectation and reality.

Failure is not an absolute. It is teaching and learning process, and a creative tool.

When we are afraid, fearful of creating, we need to trust in our abilities and skills, our planning and the quality of work.

Turn the fear into a motivating factor. Let it become a driving force.

Turn your fear into excitement. It’s the same chemical in the brain; different interpretation.

Don’t let the fear defeat you.

Summary completed, let’s move on.

When we create we are afraid of failure.

When we create we are afraid of rejection.

If we let the fear of failure consume our creative lives, we become hollow, desolate shells.

Creating anything artistic has within in it a risk of rejection; it is inevitable. It is another aspect of feeling like a failure when a story does not find a publisher, an artwork is rejected for an exhibition or a film is poorly received.

As creative people we feel the emotional knock down of rejection particularly hard. It undermines our ability to create and produce, makes us question our vision and belief in our abilities. Rejection can compound the feeling of failure, a double dose of sucker-punch. Rejection can be demoralising and quench the creative spark that burns within you.

Rejection will happen. It’s how we cope with rejection that will define our creativity. In the face of fear, failure and rejection it is our ability to be resilient, the ability to “bounce back” from adversity and stress.

My writing partner, Jodi Cleghorn, pointed me to this article from The Huffington Post:

“Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler.”

We know we are going to fail and have our work rejected. When we are resilient in the face of failure and rejection we will produce creative works that are more in balance with our ideal world and the real world, closing the gap between expectation and reality.

How can a creative person build resilience in their creative life in the face of fear, failure and rejection?

1. Believe in the skills and talents you have

If you have invested the time into developing, refining and improving your creative skills, trust that you will continue to create good art. 

Always be a learner of your craft. Continually seek ways to improve your writing by writing in a different genre or painting in a different medium. Get feedback from trusted people. 

2. Know the vision you have for your creative work

I created a manifesto to give me vision for the type of stories I want to tell. I  revisit it from time to time as a reminder. One day I will perhaps amend it as my creative journey continues, to reflect the change and development of my work.

3. Set regular goals

The SMART Plan (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-framed) is a great way of tracking your progress regardless of rejection. It keeps you focused on producing, not being bogged down by rejection. Every piece of new work is a step closer to achieving and fulfilling your goals.

My goals are worked out month to month. It’s short and specific and allows me flexibility with the demands of my day job. I have a big picture of the next few years of where I want to go and what I want to do, but I allow enough flexibility for change. 

4. Develop a strong creative network

Everyone needs a cheer squad; someone to put on the rah-rah skirt and wave the pom poms when you’re feeling flat, dejected and uninspired. 

I have a small, closed group on Facebook, made up of writers of different shapes and forms and it is a positive environment to seek feedback, preview new work or have a whinge. We live in different parts of Australia but the online connection means we champion each others’ causes.

5. Look for the positives

Whack on a pair rosy coloured glasses, preferably with a Dame Edna vibe to it, and look at your work in a positive light. As a writer it is too easy to look at all the errors when editing rather than see the fantastic sentences or paragraphs surrounding the small errors.

Fear is natural when we are uncertain, in doubt or under stress.

Failure is not a negative experience but a teaching tool. 

Rejection comes with the creative territory if we are putting our work out there for our audience.

Resilience says, “You are a creative individual” and tells you, “You can do it.” It picks you up, often by the scruff of the neck, dusts you off, smacks you on the bum and tells you to, “Get out there and try again.”

How do you develop resilience as a creative person?

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13 responses to “Failure, Fear, Rejection and Resilience

  1. This is a great article. Well as a copywriter and general marketer type, I often do fail, or rather my ideas are flops but they all can’t be good ones. So it’s definitely a struggle to not let it become personal for me. Like, “that idea was dumb, but I’m not” is hard to remember sometimes. For me, I just think, okay that didn’t work, what next? And usually focus on trying to figure out my next idea rather than dwelling on something that didn’t work out.

  2. I think any artist needs to interrogate themselves as to what being artist means to them. Why they want to be an artist, why they expect anyone to be interested in their work, what they are aiming to achieve and more pertinently communicate to an audience. And also their relationship to their particular medium of choice for artistic self-expression. Why words or why clay or a bass guitar? Sort these out and you have your artistic vision (or manifesto as in your case). With that, then there is far less of a gap between the imagined world and the real world as far as artistic production is concerned. You keep things in perspective, you maintain the balance of art as free play and production of output, both of which it must be.

  3. How to build resilience?

    * Allow yourself time to feel shitty or disheartened… but don’t wallow in it.

    * Turn every rejection into an opportunity… spin that story on its heels and send it out again

    * Be passionate about what you do.

    * Do not let success or failure define your self worth.

    * Surround yourself with people who believe in you. They are your cheer squad and bum kickers who will pick you up when you are down, keep you honest when you can’t keep yourself honest.

    * Keep believing in yourself, even when you feel you can’t. There is something to be said for the Little Red Caboose in each of us.

    • You said it better than I did. Going to snaffle this :)

      • I may have to turn this into a blog post! Was thinking too about how important positive role models are. People whose tenacity and work ethic you can aspire to (rather than to compare yourself to and bring yourself up short of!)

  4. Could we perhaps add something about defining success in terms of the things we, the creative, have control over. By that I mean: I am/will be a successful creative because I successfully create and improve my craft. Not I will be successful only when others say I am? When people buy my work?

    Rejection then becomes either a signal to improve your craft or just someone’s opinion and we can’t please everyone. *

    *feel free to chuck this in my face next time I whinge about rejection :)

    • *scrunches into a ball, ready to throw*
      I like the definition of success as the things we have control over, as we improve and develop our craft.

  5. for me success is solving or at least part solving the narrative, formalist and linguistic challenges that any piece of work throws up. That’s pretty much the only reason i write anyway, to explore these things that otherwise bug me in the same way holes in scientific theories bug some physicist or other to go on and rectify, usually by overthrowing the previous theory entirely.

    I don’t really see this in terms of improving my craft, more dealing with fresh ideas and literary issues I haven’t yet tackled. Sometimes they are dead ends, but that’s okay too.

    • I’ve always loved your unique perspective on writing as it gives me such a thrill to read what you have written and to follow the linguistic rabbit holes you explore.

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