Purposeful Failure

While most treat failure as an excuse to quit others view it as an opportunity to grow. Thomas Edison makes the simple claim, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Take on a mindset which enables you to learn rather than make excuses.

Failure should serve as a reminder that you haven’t plateaued. When you no longer fail, you will no longer learn and grow. It’s important to recognize that a state of perfection does not exist therefore you will never reach a point in which you no longer fail; however, the attempt to avoid failure is where the real trouble lies. Embrace the fact that failure is inevitable and take risks. Unfortunately, the negative connotation attached to failure has been embedded in our mindset which causes us to instinctively avoid opportunities with the possibility of failing. Although tiptoeing our way through appears safe it actually limits our thought process and lessens our understanding of what we think we know. If you do not fail you do not learn.

Here are ways in which purposeful failure can work in your favor:

Create what you’re not good at

Most often we hold back on exploring our interests because we fear we aren’t good enough, but remember, not everyone is an expert at what they do nor are you expected to be an expert; the only way to gain progress is by doing. At the end of the Symphony chapter in Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind he encourages you to celebrate your amateurness and states, “If you want a creative life, do what you can’t and experience the beauty of the mistakes you make.” Experimenting with this can be extremely liberating because when you accept that you’re not good at something you’re free of any pressure or expectations set for yourself which enables you to play.

Create something which differs from your norm

A willingness to step out of your comfort zone is a willingness to learn. When dedicating yourself to your craft you must be committed to every aspect of it which includes the challenge of bettering yourself and never settling. Comfortable is both easy and safe, but it’s less rewarding. Taking the time to explore new styles and mediums forces you into a new workflow; such a change makes you more aware of your decisions. Additionally, when you’re creating the same style of work you become bound to a routine which rarely varies in methods or tools, so trying a new style allows the freedom to discover new techniques that would otherwise go unexplored.

Create something you can’t stand

When you create something you don’t like you’re able to gain a better understanding of why exactly you don’t like it. Having a full understanding of what you don’t like allows you to build off of that and create something which feels genuine.

When I was a Junior in high school I took Advanced Placement 2D Design, and the following year I had decided to take Advanced Placement Drawing, both of which are college level classes in which you submit a body of work online at the end of the year to be scored. The highest scored you can receive is a 5 and as a Junior I received a 4 so leading into my Senior year I had an understanding of the demands of the course as well as the expectations of those who judge the final portfolios.

My teacher gave me a CD with sample portfolios and tips to help me brainstorm and prepare a concentration, but rather than taking a traditional approach and leaning towards the preferences of the judges I made the decision to purposely fail. I didn’t actually fail, but on the surface my plan for my concentration did not appeal to any of the art teachers at my school, in fact they all discouraged me from pursuing it.

I had decided to experiment and truly get out of my comfort zone by learning to draw with my non dominant, left hand and to make things even more difficult I only did still-life drawings. It’s understandable why my teachers discouraged me from trying this because it was obvious that it wouldn’t translate well to the judges, but I used this as an experiment to reconnect with the roots of drawing. Each day I struggled to draw with my left hand, but I continued to practice nonetheless. The experience challenged me both mentally and physically — it reminded me that drawing is about relationships, and forced me to actually understand even the smallest of movements in both my wrist and arm. Although I received another 4 the risk was extremely rewarding. Below you can see two of my studies.

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The first image is split into two halves to provide a comparison between my initial abilities with my left and right hands while the second still-life was completed solely with my left hand after weeks of practice. Taking on this task was very challenging and honestly very frustrating at times, but it forced me out of my comfort zone which made me more attentive to detail and in general more innovative. Use failure as means of education and learn from it — purposely fail.