The Alternative to Failure

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

I’ve met a lot of passionate people who’ve given up on their creative dreams. Like, a lot a lot. Most of my peers have sucked at something. I myself have certainly given up a couple dozen times, and most of my artistic or entrepreneurial friends have flopped at one point or another.

In fact, by society’s standards, many of us could be perceived as failures.

One of my first loves was photography. I applied to some of the top film and art colleges in the country, and even got into a few of them. Bright eyed and full of fire, I was ready to take the next few years by storm. I began to envision my new life in southern California (I was a New Yorker at the time), outfitted in super cool sunglasses and exploring the world through my lens.

Then, the talk happened. My parents explained that despite my dreams and big visions, attending college out of state wasn’t going to be financially feasible. At that point, it was too late to shop around, so I enrolled at the local community college, unenthusiastically, and spent my first semester skipping class, half assing my assignments and later dropping out. That was one of my first adult “failures.”

Fast forward four years, three colleges and quite a few life lessons later. I entered an art fair as a way to reignite my creative flame. I spent weeks conceptualizing, crafting, gluing, painting and sewing pieces for my booth. When the big day finally came, I was supercharged. Confident that I would exceed my expectations, become an instant hit and make hundreds, if not thousands of dollars from my work, I was proud.

When my final numbers were tallied at the end of the day, I discovered I had taken a major loss. So, I packed up my art along with my hope and pride that day. I have not picked up a camera, drawing pad or paint brush since. Man, I could recount “failure” stories for hours. 

College isn’t for me. (Okay, that one was actually true.)
Photography isn’t for me.
Art isn’t for me.

Over the years I started to notice some patterns. Anything that I wasn’t instantly “good” or successful at became a failure in my eyes. Convinced that the universe was sending me signals to give up completely, I never let my passions hang around long enough for them to stick.

Alright, now for the happy ending. Today, my passions have shifted from art and film to other forms of creativity, like writing and digital entrepreneurship – and lucky for me, my methods of handling failure have evolved quite a bit. When I bomb at something, I keep going. When I lose money, I try again. When I don’t know how to do something, I figure it out. When I make a mistake, I learn from it. When my world flips upside down, I wrestle it right side up again.

The lesson is this. For those of us who choose a less linear path than others (which is 100% of us in the creative fields), success and failure take on new definitions. The old way hints that if you don’t finish college, you’re a failure. The old way implies that if you’re not making enough money, you’re not successful. The old way suggests that if you don’t get the hang of something right away, you should throw in the towel.

Life is not measured in units of success or failure anymore (otherwise, most of us would be pretty damn depressed). Our creative value is measured by how committed we are to our dreams. Yuck, that sounded kind of hokey. Whatever, it’s true.

If you want to be a yoga instructor, go for it dude. You’ll probably be self conscious in the beginning, and you’ll probably suck starting out just like everybody else. If you want to start a blog, pour your heart into it, even if you have no idea what you’re doing (because none of us do). If you want to take your first ballet class at 40, no one’s stopping you.

Whatever you want to do, do it.

Whoever you want to be, be it. Whatever skill you want to learn, learn it. Commit yourself to your craft, and failure won’t matter anymore. When you have a big enough reason for wanting something, you’ll own it. Repeat: you will own it. For better or for worse.

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