Watering the Seeds of Failure

Keshet Salon for Women and Creativity - Pyragraph

Carolyn Tobias is the Communications Director of Keshet Dance and Center for the Arts in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Carolyn is a proud wife, mother of three, a thespian on temporary hiatus, and business partner with her husband, Matthew Tobias, Music Producer and Drummer at empty house studio, a recording studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Keshet is hosting a Women & Creativity Salon on Wednesday, March 15; details below.


If you’re reading this post for solutions to eliminate failure STOP reading now. If you are a human being, however, continue reading as we share this “badge of humanity” called failure. It’s unavoidable. Yet I believe out of the devastation of failure can grow learning and new life.

I love the quote that actor Nicolas Cage delivers as the character Benjamin Gates in National Treasure: “You know, Thomas Edison tried and failed nearly 2,000 times to develop the carbonized cotton-thread filament for the incandescent light bulb. And when asked about it he said, ‘I didn’t fail; I found out 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb,’ but he only needed one way to make it work.”

Feeling wrung out, disregarded and useless are agonizingly universal.

I wish I could say I had that grit and perspective of Thomas Edison. The fact is, as artists or creatives when we experience “failure” (as defined by ourselves or others) it deeply rocks our very existence. But isn’t that how creatives feel all things? We are deeply moved because we are deeply passionate and vested in what we create and how we express our creativity.

How do we water the seeds of failure to have that pain actually produce something valuable? Learning is a verb; an action; a continual process. Learning from failure is actively choosing to see each failure as the beginning, and not the end of the process.

Forgive yourself and others.

Right off the bat, this easier said than done.

Not forgiving ourselves means getting stuck with shame.

Not forgiving others means letting bitterness dictate our direction.

Neither options are healthy for evolving creatives.

It’s no secret that from the very thing we love the most, we can get hurt the most. Love your art = get ripped apart by any failures connected to that art!

My husband and I are in our 21st year of marriage. We don’t have a perfect marriage and in fact, in all honesty, as with all relationships, it’s not that we experience fewer “failures” as time goes by. Failures—to respond correctly, or to acknowledge the other’s needs—continue to happen (often daily). But what time has taught us is that with each failure in our marriage, we have to re-commit to fight harder, to forgive ourselves and each other.

Professionally or as a creative hobbyist, moving past failure is not an on-and-off switch for many us. With every edit, redo, start-over we are allowing ourselves to make mistakes, and forgiving ourselves for error, and not getting stuck there. Not denying the emotions of disappointment or hurt, but not wallowing in self-pity either.

Not getting stuck is especially important when failure comes from another’s criticism or involvement. If we don’t forgive them and move on, our creativity is stifled by their filter. By getting stuck, you give control of your creation to them, in your head—and then in your expression. Don’t let this happen.

Avoid isolation.

Of all the artists I have had the privilege to work with over several decades, a common creative and personal protection mechanism is: retreat. It’s easy to isolate ourselves. “Oh, I do my best work by myself.” “I perfect my art in solitude.” “People are distracting. My personal creation comes from within.” Sound familiar? Creative process aside, when it comes to moving past failure, deciding to “go it alone” is neither necessary or healthy.

Beware! Isolation and failure are a volatile cocktail for you as a human and a creative.

Whether or not you ever create in collaboration, leaning on community to learn through your failure is important. Remember that “badge of humanity”? We all fail. In fact, as many times as I’ve failed, while the details of those failures may look different to you, the similarities of feeling wrung out, disregarded and useless are agonizingly universal. Find a listening ear. Feeling alone doesn’t have to equate to being alone. Be vulnerable (Ugh! That word, really? Yes!). The support of another person can look different to each of us, but at the end of the day, when a seed survives mold and drought, it dies a healthy death—and only then will new life come forth.

What will come from the seeds of your failures? I celebrate those failures with you, in anticipation for the successes that will grow from them.

Women & Creativity Salon, From the Seeds of Failure: Wednesday, March 15 (Free; RSVP please)

Keshet Ideas and Innovation Community, New Mexico’s arts business incubator for arts entrepreneurs, together with Women In Design: New Mexico are co-hosting this salon. Come one, come all, to hear from other women who have turned their personal or professional failures into successes. Most of all, be reminded you are not alone. If we take our failures out of isolation, we realize that “badge of humanity” is universal AND we too can watch transformations and beauty grow from our seeds of failure. 

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