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Changing the way we think about failing

failing total balance

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ Thomas A. Edison

Last Monday night, Elsa (our eldest daughter) and I went to an event at The Wheeler Centre to celebrate the launch of Colin Batrouney’s new book, Creative Writing for Beginners. I love these events – they’re inspiring for anyone who loves to read. My ultimate dream is to be up there myself one day. I know it’s a long shot but at the very least, I’d love to be able to call myself an author some time in the future.

Colin was joined on stage by a handful of friends including Geoffrey Rush, who I have to say, is as mesmerisingly articulate and compelling in real life as he is on the big screen. Each of the friends shared their interpretation of Colin’s book. I haven’t read it yet but one character in the story fascinated me – the creative writing teacher who speaks to his students about the strong possibility that they might ‘fail’ his course.

How can you possibly fail at anything creative?

Elsa and I talked about this afterwards. ‘How can you possibly fail at anything creative?’ she asked me. Which is true of course, because creativity is completely subjective. This led us to a deeper discussion about failure in general and we agreed that really, all of our choices are open to interpretation. Often the things we initially deem as failure are those that lead us to alternatives that are more meaningful in the long run.

I started to wonder though, what does it actually mean to fail? In exams, it’s black and white and easy to understand. But in life or your career, it’s ambiguous because success is often about meeting a set of criteria created by a person or a group of people whose opinions differ from your own.

Undeniably, there are measures we understand to be universal markers of success but I’ve worked with many people who have achieved those markers who are deeply unhappy so I’m not sure I agree with a conventional way of thinking about what makes a successful life.

Failure is what happens when you feel disconnected from who you really are

I think failure is better classified as what happens when you feel disconnected from who you really are, or when you’re emotionally empty or living in a way that has no reference to your personal values.

I’ve met people who have little by way of material wealth who are alive on the inside and inspired by their lives and at the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve met executives who earn multiple six figure incomes who have little desire to get out of bed in the morning because their lives are soulless and grey.

Maybe, we need to rewrite the rules

A successful life could be one where you drive a fancy car and earn lots of money but equally, it might be a life where you walk away from a miserable role to write beautiful poetry that nobody reads. Or where you stick with your day job but spend your weekends tending a vegetable patch and creating a community produce-swapping scheme. Or maybe it’s one where you follow just one of your dreams – even if you don’t quite make it to your desired outcome.

Success is trying, doing, being creative and original

It’s not following the crowd, being willing to say no, pursuing the thing that is calling you, asking for help, taking a risk, walking away, pushing through the barriers. It’s picking yourself up to do it all again when it doesn’t work out the first time.

And maybe failure is the opposite.

Which do you choose?

We would be delighted for you to reproduce our articles as long as they remain intact and contain the author’s details as follows: ‘Kate James is a coach, speaker and writer. She works with people who want to live confident, creative lives. Kate can be contacted at www.totalbalance.com.au.’

Posted in: Life
Kate James

I'm Kate James and the owner of Total Balance. I work with people who care about living purposeful, creative lives. My clients want to clarify their personal values, identify their strengths and learn about how they can make a difference in the world in their own unique way.

I run workshops and retreats in Melbourne and Byron Bay to give you the chance to escape the noise of everyday to discover what really matters to you.