Why do you create?
Maybe the answer appears easily to you, always ready and waiting somewhere between the steady rhythm of your heart and the tip of your tongue. To express yourself. To have fun. To share your wisdom with the world. To make a living. Maybe you don’t know, swept and battered by impulses like a body swept out to a vast sea you don’t understand even as it holds you in thrall. To feel. To play. To try.
There’s no right or wrong reason to create, no right or wrong way to go about it. And the answers may change as you discover new facets of your creativity, of yourself. Depending on the reason, perhaps your creativity is a random whim, free of expectation or destination.
But most likely, if you create for any reason that requires some form of completion to fulfill that purpose, then you’ve locked your creativity into a success-failure paradigm—even if it’s as small as whether you sit at your desk for long enough… or not. That paradigm can spell out your creativity’s doom, as far too many can attest, as the annals of creativity guides and motivational posters can lament. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of every aspect of the continuum in between… Even the simplest creative goals can wilt and wither beneath the harsh spotlight of expectation.
So how do you free yourself, and your creativity, from the perils and anxiety of failure?
You embrace it.
When I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, I was struck by one small section in particular: What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail? What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant? What do you love even more than you love your own ego? [p. 259].
Now, this is easy enough to say when you’re accepting creativity as a loose, inconsequential expression—surely not, though, when you’re determined to make something of it? To maybe even make a career of it? Passion and love may be the source, but isn’t discipline and determination even in the face of failure the key to achieving success? How could you possibly go into a serious attempt at success while courting failure so brazenly?
Simple—you lean into the failure. You accept it, you embrace it, you use it. I took this quote a step further in creating a mantra for myself: What would you do if you knew you were going to fail?
For a long time, I’ve dreamed of success. Sheltered the daydreams in my heart like precious jewels, to be lusted after and glamorized until they might motivate me past my own inertia and flaws. But the jewels were cursed, a trap, luring my creativity into a dangerous loop that demanded a guarantee of success before I could risk my time and energy in pursuing it.
But success can never be guaranteed. Especially not in the hypothetical and vague stages of creating in a vacuum, when all response is imagined and all expectations are based on everyone else’s work. Every step forward trying to follow the winding path of other people’s successes is besieged by fear of the simple truth—you are not other people. Your work is not exactly like any other work. It must forge its own path, and there’s no telling where it will lead… There is no guarantee it will lead to success of any kind, from finished page to bestseller. You might get up the courage to finally sit at the desk… and still fail to stay there.
And yet, if you fixate on guaranteeing hypothetical success (my particular weakness is trying to develop ideas that sound like they’d be successful, or that I’m likely to finish), you will wander forever, constantly sent back to the start when a new fear arises to send you hurtling back to safety.
Instead, embrace failure. Chase it. Love it. Success cannot be guaranteed, but failure can, and when you view it not as the end but as the beginning, it becomes not an enemy but a friend. When you’re headed somewhere specific and you meander, you’re lost; when you set out to wander, you’re exploring. And missteps, faltering, retracing steps—they become a virtue, not a sin.
It can also be immensely helpful in clearing out the voices in your head that tell you what other people might want, and dig into the core of what you want. If you’re going to fail anyway, what do you want to spend your time doing along the way? What will you learn from, what will you look back at and find worthwhile even if it never reaches the ideal destination? What would be fun or meaningful or challenging or enjoyable as you wander? Then, no matter where you end up, even back where you started with no success in sight, you gained something along the journey.
Could you get stuck in an endless wandering loop and never reach the success you seek? Possibly. And the only way to do this is to accept that possibility wholeheartedly. If you can view the wandering itself as a success, though, then you’re already there. That’s not to say there aren’t frustrations, aren’t important goals and attempts to make as you go, but this perspective can temper some of the creative anxiety that keeps us from even trying.
I still want to be successful. In a lot of ways, I need to be, and I’m determined to achieve my dreams. But every time I’ve been able to complete a project, it’s been because I accepted failure. Because I was willing to fail, to leap into that failure and roll around in it, to embrace it as the only path to success—even if it’s less a path and more a meandering wood full of unknown creatures and meadows and terrors. But the alternative was sitting in the village alone, waiting for a guide that will never come.
So I wander. And I have fun doing it because I’m creating for me, for the experience. Where will it lead? I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to find out—right now, that’s everything.
Go out and fail. You just might find yourself, and maybe even stumble into success along the way…
Or not. 🙂
[Casually ignores how long it’s been since I updated this blog… heh. Life. Procrastination. Distraction. Laziness. And somehow the internet goes on. 🙂 Anyway, thank you for reading!]