Coping with Failure – Using it to Thrive

On this blog, I talk a lot about my many, many failures when it comes to trying new things. Creating things, making things, trying new techniques, the truth is that when you’re trying new things, it’s not always going to go perfectly the first time. How could it? Who masters a skill BEFORE even trying? It doesn’t make any sense. Still, failing is frustrating. So how is it possible to be okay with failing? As per my previous blog post, why I’m going to set my child up for failure, I do have to give a lot of credit to my parents for bringing me up in a life where failure was success, that said it’s still not an easy thing – it’s still disappointing.

Here are my tips failing in style 

1. The First Time isn’t the Last

Never go into a new project assuming that it will be your final draft, always take attempt #1 as a draft. Last year I decided I wanted to try making bath bombs to give as Christmas presents. I did this partly for fun, partly to save money. I looked up 3 dozen recipes on Pinterest, picked out my ingredients, decided which recipe I liked best, and went to work! The bath bomb seem super easy – kind of like baking cookies: you put the ingredients together, mix them, pack the mix into a mold, wait for them to dry, and pop them out! Simple, right? But when starting a new project there are always curve balls that neither you nor Pinterest can predict. My first set of bath bombs bubbled and expanded out of the mold like crazy! No Pinterest posts warned me about that! I’m guessing I used too much water; they were hot messes. If I’d gone into that project assuming that my first set of bath bombs were going to be beautiful, I would have been sorely disappointed. Instead, I recognized them as draft #1 and had me a nice hot bath to get rid of the monstrosities.
On the flip side of this, the other day I went to make headbands for a bachelorette party for the friend I married and 9th grade. I went into that one assuming that all the headbands would be my finals; I didn’t test beforehand. I was sorely disappointed when I finished making them -the ink bled out so horribly that the words were almost unreadable. The other bridesmaids were lovely and we wore them anyway, but I was upset because I knew I could have done better.

2. Recognize your Prior Emotions

Sometimes a failed project is due to your previous emotional or physical state, not the project itself. For me, I know for a solid fact that I am a hangry person. If I’m overly hungry, I shake, I get anxious, I get frustrated very easily. That said, even though I know this about myself, if I’m going on a project that I started at 9 in the morning and it’s now 10 at night yet I haven’t eaten all day, I’ll still make the mistake of not recognizing that I haven’t taken a break. I’ll be physically and emotionally drained and everything will start going wrong. Ever since I was a little girl creating in my parents’ basement, my mom or dad would have to come downstairs late at night just to remind me of the time and that I need to put my project down lest I get super frustrated, overtired, and mess something up. It’s no secret that your emotional state has a lot to do with how things in your life are going, creating something is no exception.

3. Laugh at your Failures

Sometimes you’re sitting on the floor covered in paint, trying to get your masterpiece perfect, nothing’s going right, you’re on the verge of tears, and the idea of laughing is absolutely absurd! But that’s exactly why you should do it. Laughing at yourself and your failures, even if you don’t feel like it, can help change the way you’re feeling. There are very few mistakes that cannot be fixed – at least not the DIY world. Laughing instead of crying can get you a long way! I know that what I’m talking about is a major mental shift and it’s not an easy thing to do, but I promise that working on it will be worth it.

4. Change the Narrative

“We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents,” Bob Ross. I hope that you have all had the pleasure of watching one of Bob Ross’s painting shows and if not, I encourage you to seek one out now – it’s truly a  life-changing experience. One of his major lessons is that mistakes are just happy little accidents – mistakes are opportunities. When I completely botched my sister-in-law’s birthday cake into a slippery, sliding, gooey mess, she ended up with an even better dessert. The failure forced me to think differently and turn it into a trifle. As I sit here writing this, I’m trying to pull up in my mind examples of when I turned my mistakes into opportunities, but honestly I’ve made so many mistakes that it’s hard to recall a single one. Especially if you are a person who likes to stretch his/her creative muscles, mistakes are major assets.

5. Share the Love

Encourage the four previous tips in other people. They say the best way to learn is to teach. If your brother or daughter or spouse finds themselves unsuccessful at whatever they were attempting, remind them that failures are okay and it can even be a good thing. Helping other people change their mindsets forces you to become even more solid in your own. I have never found myself better at laughing at my mistakes that I have since becoming a teacher. When I see a student on the verge of tears after doing something wrong and I tell them it’s fine, it’s how you learn and it’s a good thing, then I smile and I help them get to where they need to be, it makes it easier to remind myself the same thing when I have my own failures.

I hope these five tips are helpful for those of you who are hoping to become more effective creatives. I know that these five tips are going to be more difficult for some of you than others, but they’re not going to be easy for anybody. Just remember that you’re not the only person who gets frustrated by failure, but the more you can work on these tips, the more you can help the mental shift of our creative Nation. 

Failure is good