Sep
08

You Fail! But Are You Doing it Right?

Most artists I know are terrified of failure. They beat themselves up for each mistake, and suffer bouts of depression with each rejection. Failure is viewed as the enemy, and one to be avoided at all costs. So they play it safe.  Really safe.

But everyone fails. This is a simple fact of life, and there’s no way to avoid it. The important question—what kind of failure are you experiencing? 

  • Type A Failure stems from action. You try something, give it your all, but it doesn’t work out. 
  • Type B Failure stems from inaction. You do little or nothing, even though it’s important to you.  Often this is because you’re paralyzed by the prospect of (ironically) failure. 

Disenfranchised artists have typically experienced few Type A failures. Expecting a near 100% success rate, they view each bump in the road as an omen. When something doesn’t work out, it causes them to retreat and become a little less ambitious. These individuals start blaming society, the educational system, government, a lack of personal talent, or even the art itself for their disappointments. As a result, a Type B failure of the largest order is suffered. Their career doesn’t work. Their income doesn’t grow. Their dreams aren’t realized.

Successful artists have typically experienced an enormous number of Type A failures. Expecting a 1-5% success rate (one triumph out of approximately 20 to 100 attempts), they are shocked and delighted when the results are anything better. Each bump in the road is interpreted as an opportunity or necessary step in the process. When something doesn’t work out, it fills them with determination and ambition. In fact, some successful artists actually proudly maintain rejection letters as badges of honor.  After all, they’re out there working to make things happen!  And by lighting that many fires, some will surely catch. As a result, their career, income, and dreams build momentum. 

Everyone hates Type B failures.  They may not have the immediate sting of a Type A, but they’re much more damning in the long run. The resultant sense of helplessness and deep dissatisfaction takes a devastating toll over time.  

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Nobody likes Type A failures either.  It’s always nicer when things work out the first time. But success can be really hard to achieve when you place all your eggs in one basket (or no basket at all!), especially in a field as competitive and challenging as the arts.

On the other hand, the more failures you allow to accrue, the more successes will likely be picked up along the way. And success begets success. So allow yourself to fail. Hundreds and hundreds of times. Maybe more. With those kinds of numbers, I bet you’ll be impressed with the results.

If you really want to succeed, be willing to fail. 

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