Most of us don’t touch failure with a ten foot pole.
We avoid it, side-step it, move around it.
We drop out of class before we actually take the F. To err is human, perhaps. But we treat “erring” as if it is less than human.
I take my kids to an art studio yesterday morning. They choose a ceramic piece, pick out a brush or two and begin to assemble a palette of colors. Red, chartreuse, indigo, lavender, and pink. Of course pink. No color is wrong. No color is right. It all just is.
They paint and make mistakes. The younger one paints with abandon; the older one has a clear idea in her head of what it will look like. She is more skilled than her six-year-old sister. Neither are afraid to ask for help.
Neither of them walked into the studio with the thought:
If only I can do a really, really good job that will look professional will this be a good experience.
No. It is something more like this:
I can choose any color I want. Any color in the whole studio! I will take as long as I want to do this and it will be fun.
It will be fun.
Fun is their motivation. The experience, the journey, and the actual creative process are the rewards. It isn’t a professionally configured piece of craftsmanship and the art comes as a result of the journey. In this scenario, there is no such thing as failure. Even a badly painted item would not be a failure; it would be a beautiful success as a part of the artistic process.
Children learn a second language much quicker than adults not only because their brains are spongy and greedy for information, but because they are not afraid to fail. They aren’t afraid to conjugate a verb wrong so they simply speak it out incorrectly. With children, we have patience in this. We repeat the correct word for them several times when they are learning to talk. We even repeat it with a smile.
With adults, we aren’t so forgiving. Adults have a harder time at it because we are conditioned to be scared to fail at it. I won’t try the new Spanish word because most likely I’ll be saying it wrong. So I keep my mouth shut.
I can’t help but wonder what we could learn if we weren’t afraid to fail. And what kind of help we would get if we weren’t so prideful to let the asking of it get in the way. What kinds of things would we try if we weren’t worried about shame and disappointment?
This isn’t only about writing books and art projects and going back to school or to counseling. It’s about forgiveness and marriage and parenting. It’s about love and picking up the phone and getting out of bed in the morning. It’s about asking hard questions and repeating the mantra: what’s-the-worst-that-can-happen?
Let’s help the world cultivate a culture where failure is okay and where the worst that can happen is that we try again. Let’s say no to shaming others for mistakes and celebrating only successes. Let us celebrate the journeys and the days spent getting messy in the art studio. Let us take joy in the “erring” and know that it is a glorious part of being human.
And the worst that can happen? It isn’t shame or failure or disappointment. It’s not trying at all.
What would you try if there was no fear of shame or failure?