I've had this topic written down in my editorial calendar for a while now. Ironically, it was due this week, when I've been in the danger of suffering some major feelings failure myself. Funny how that works! As you might know, a few years back, before I started diversifying the things I do, I was still a full time wedding and portrait photographer. I have since scaled my wedding business down, and yet, when ever I do have a wedding, like I did last weekend, the aftermath and all that comes with it (such as editing) still throws me for a loop, and I feel like a failure on all other aspects of life. But going through weeks like these are also good reminders of why I'm going through my own personal journey of self-discovery.
I've done a fair few things in my life, from photography to graphic design and fine art. And, while all the jobs I've had, and the businesses I've started, have all had a common thread of using my creativity and artistic abilities, I don't really remember ever having a clearly defined career trajectory in mind. You know, the kind which would have taken me to systematically pursue a certain occupation (although I did entertain a persistent truck driver fantasy as a kid…).
However, there's a certain yearning that has guided me throughout my life and the career choices I've made. I haven't perhaps always been consciously aware of it, but it's always been firmly at the core of everything I've done. And that yearning is for freedom. Freedom from conforming to any preconceived idea of how we're supposed to work, freedom to explore different things I'm interested in, freedom to decide my own hours, freedom to follow my heart.
The flipside of freedom
The flipside of said freedom is a certain kind of terror, which can sometimes jump at you from around the corner. It's a terror which stems from giving into feelings of isolation, judgment or failure. It's that dark passenger who whispers in your ear and says you shouldn't be pursuing this, what makes you so special, what about all those things that didn't work out?
I feel like that fear of failure is the biggest reason we get stuck in unsatisfying careers or situations that don't serve us. That devastating feeling when something doesn't go to plan is so deeply built into us, that we very rarely even question it. We try something, it doesn't quite work out as planned, we feel we've failed. We do that enough times, and we start choosing not to even try, in order to avoid that feeling.
Going through the week I've had, where emails have gone unanswered, blog posts unwritten, and where people close to me have had to suffer my bad temper, these are the coping methods I've tried to keep in mind, in an attempt of not letting those feelings of failure take over.
1. Don't personify failure
It's too easy when something goes wrong, or doesn't work out the way we envisioned it, to feel like we ourselves are a failure. But that's not true. There are many many many things in this lifetime that will not work out as planned, but none of those will mean that you are the failure. You as a person are simply just going through life, not failing. You just haven't found the most successful way for that particular thing you're attempting just yet. And you never will, if you don't keep going through further failures.
2. Let it go
So, it didn't work. Your painting turned out rubbish, you missed an important photograph, all your business ideas weren't hugely successful. Stop berating yourself over and over in your head. Obsessing over what went wrong will not benefit you in any way, it will just stop you from moving forward.
3. Don't be afraid of judgement
One of our biggest fears as human beings is being judged by others. It's heartbreaking to think how many great things were left undone, how much beauty went unshared, simply because fear of judgment stopped someone in their tracks. Let go of seeking approval from others and follow your own path. Even Oprah famously got sacked from her first job because she was deemed ‘unsuitable for TV'. The world would be a different place if she had taken that failure to heart and stopped trying.
4. Change your perspective
The only way to truly defeat that dreaded feeling of failure, is to change your whole perspective on whether such a thing as failure even exists. The most famous quote that gives insight into how failure is really just a concept born out of social acceptance, is by Thomas Edison on the invention of the electric light bulb:
‘I have not failed. I've just found 10000 ways that won't work.'
In hindsight, aren't we all pretty happy he carried on trying, despite having lived through thousands of ‘failures'? Each and every one of those was a step towards success.
So, when you come across periods of times or events that don't go to plan, stop yourself from thinking ‘I am stupid or weak or not cut out for this'. Instead, think of how much more knowledge you now possess, how you are one more failure closer to a success, how you are in fact ahead of the game because you choose to go through failures.