Learning by Burning - The Function of Failure

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Learning by Burning - The Function of Failure

In the cycle of creation - failure plays a vital role

"Music, to create harmony, must investigate discord"

- Plutarch

The journey of the artist is to learn that failure isn't just an unfortunate, random mistake - it is a necessary part of creation.

In the moment, failure is just the worst feeling. I've almost sold my cameras 3 times. It can be absolutely heartbreaking & soul destroying - if you are looking at it from the wrong perspective.

Like most things, we tend to look at failure with a very narrow perspective. Forgetting the true function that it serves.

When we are in the midst of a failure, it can be all consuming & the only script that runs through our minds is "I've failed, I'm a failure, I'm useless, I'll never succeed" or something similar. Some might add some embellishments to those scripts.

When you zoom out from the failure - which happens naturally once a few cycles of creation are completed - you can see how it is an integral part of the journey.

Something that you would never leave out when looking back with hindsight (as hard as that is to think of in the moment).

Failure will never not be disappointing & tough to push through but the answer is never going to be: avoid failure at all costs. They are what make the journey meaningful. What gives it shades & contour.  

I wouldn't want to give you the fruit and steal the sweetness from it. You wouldn't want that either.

What we can do rather, is shift perspective on failure to understand its function and perhaps to help ease the suffering just a tad (so that you don't want to sell all of your equipment like me).

So let's take a look at failure from a zoomed out perspective to see what it has to teach us. 


Before the Fall - A Dreamy Place

We make plans. 
We envision a goal or an event. 
We put our energy towards it. 
We start to imagine the possibilities that achieving this goal could bring us. 
We tell people how great it will be.

We dream and we hope - a beautiful state to be in.

Before failure we are in a state of blissful ignorance.
Dreaming ridiculous dreams & planning with audacity.
We like this part. 

People who don't learn the function of failure will become cynical & unwilling to return to this state of dreaming. 

An individual who returns to dreaming after they have failed is the mark of someone who has developed a good relationship to failure.  

During the Failure - The Fire Burns

So then it happens:

The spark of genius that you had and was sure would work out - didn't.

The image you spent time, energy & money to bring into being - sucks.

The collaboration or event - fell through

The relationship - ends

You feel disappointed. You feel shame. You don't want to tell anyone. You want to give up. 

When a vision that we dreamed & hoped for falls on its face - it is appropriate & necessary to feel disappointed. Don't suppress that. Feel it fully. Grieve for the dream that you envisioned...

... But learn why it happened...


Failure = Learning by Burning
The ultimate chance to know yourself


Failure is a period of burning off the dead wood. It's during times of failure where we get to know who we really are by burning off the aspects of ourselves that we no longer need:

- A belief system that does not serve us
- Parts of our identity we are ready to shed
- People in our lives that do not allow growth
- Habits & behaviours that fail us

When we leave these behind in the ashes, we can go forward with the best of what remains. It's a painful experience but as the fire burns away the deadwood, it creates fertile ground for growth. 

"The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind." 

- Friedrich Nietzsche


Introspection - Know Thyself 

Introspection is key during this stage. Looking deeply into yourself for the reason things didn't go as planned is vital.

Self-sabotage is very real. As I've said before, our subconscious runs the show.

Your subconscious may direct you into the furnace, it wants you to burn away the deadwood & re-emerge transformed. A Phoenix from the ashes.


What you must avoid during failure is beating yourself up.

You want to partner with yourself to find the lesson in the failure, you don't want to partner with an abusive, demeaning version of yourself.

Being unkind to yourself gets in the way of proper introspection. This is an unnecessary part of failure. It is completely not helpful or warranted in any situation - even if it was technically your fault.

Imagine listening to a podcast and the host spoke derisively & judgementally towards the guest. Yuck.

Asking questions is how we find answers

* the most obvious sentence that was ever written *

So why don't we utilise it more? Asking yourself questions is getting to know yourself - I find it helpful to write them out in a journal.

Read more about asking questions here

It might be that your tendency to be disorganised slowly derailed the plan.

Ask yourself why you are disorganised.
- Is it because you struggle to focus? 
- Could you set your environment up to help you focus?
- Are there some underlying assumptions about the possible success or failure of the project that stayed your hand?

Fear of success is a sneaky one that no one expects.

Or it could be that you need to develop a skill.
- What has stopped you from learning this skill?
- Are you being 'lazy?'

Laziness is normally a cover for an underlying assumption that inhibits you from expanding your identity up to include that skill. "I don't have the energy" "I'm no good at that" "I'm not capable of ...." etc.

The answer is generally never as simple as "I'm a disorganised person" or "I'm no good at *insert skill here*" - look harder.

Learning to fail

As you question yourself, what you might find is that when you made your plans, your dreams & visions - you didn't have all the information at hand.
You didn't really know yourself or you had a 'best guess' approach to what you wanted. 
Now is your chance to get to know yourself more fully. What do you want to stay and what do you want gone?

After the Fire - A Return to Dreaming

After we've gone through this period of burning - the rain comes and the first sprouts of new growth appear. 

We re-emerge from the ashes.
We dream again.
This time, with more information at hand, more self knowledge, more wisdom.

What is really great about failure is when you get enough distance from it, you can see why it happened and thus become grateful for it.

The perspective shift can come years, months or even days later.

You can see that the failure was a period of burning & you are the Phoenix that emerged from the ashes. 
You know that when you return to dreaming - your dreams have more potency.
You have become more you.

And you are ready to face the next failure - yippee!

cycle of creation

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