Why Failure Can Be Important

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

Right before the pandemic hit, I remember driving into Brooklyn with my dear friend and acclaimed artist, Richie Brown, for a workshop he was hosting called “Failure Can Be Fun.” The workshop was a series of creative exercises to embrace creating art for the sake of the process, without any attachment to the end result or the need for perfection. In fact, the “mistakes” were most celebrated and often the most enjoyable aspect of the experience, with memories being the most valuable. Drawing ET from memory, recreating a picture with your non-dominant hand and laughing all the way through it proved to be a potent connective tissue between the participants. It turned out to be the last time we would all get to see one another for a while.

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Months of isolation and all of the stressors that have come with the time we’ve been navigating have, for many, brought up feelings of existential dread and a sort of “life review.” It’s causing us to pause, reflect and recalibrate as we reevaluate what’s important and what feels worth it — especially as we’ve examined our own mortality throughout the phases of pandemia. I’m often reminded of a quote attributed to Lewis Carrol: “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

During the time of being alone together and reviewing the how’s and why’s of our lives, a common conversation I have with colleagues is this palpable sense of regret over failure or regret over paths not taken. Regret, period.

Personally, I spent a lot of time meditating on what I consider to be my own time of great failure, which happened in the summer of 2013. It was during that time when I first met Richie and hired him to do the art for a children’s book I was self-publishing through a company, which preyed upon aspiring authors looking to be “seen” and proved to be less-than-reputable. Around that same time, I also lost all of my savings overnight in the Mt.Gox scandal, and everything I had hoped to create, all of my visions and naive dreams, seemed to be failure after failure after failure — to a point of not only crippling anxiety but major embarrassment.

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In the years since that summer, I continue to look back to that time, and instead of feeling resentment or fixating on all of the “mistakes,” I see it as a time of growth — darkness being a catalyst to find light, chaos being a catalyst to find order. No mistakes, only lessons. No failure, only evolution.

Many entrepreneurs and visionaries will experience “failures” along their path to success, even the powerful billionaires we now know in our current zeitgeist of power.

When you reach the top of whichever summit you’re looking to climb, impermanence and change will eventually surface and cast a new storm or condition you’ll have to traverse in order to find safety and refuge. The moments that break us, when viewed through the lens of a creator, may actually be integral experiences that lead us to our eureka/breakthrough moments.

There’s always a cost, value or price to the choices we make as we traverse the wilderness of entrepreneurship. Perhaps if I didn’t pay to self-publish my failure of a first book concept, I would have never learned everything I’ve learned today, which has brought me great success as an internationally published author. I also would have never met Richie and had the opportunity to not only find a forever friend but an artist collaborator who continues to inspire my work. If I didn’t lose so much, I would have never appreciated the greater value of my wins.

Navigating the pandemic has cost us a lot, individually and collectively. Yet its cause for pause and reflection through uncertainty has allowed some of us to find presence even through fear and humility through the confusion. A deeper appreciation for life, connection, humanity and the little things may be one of the pockets of light in the darkness.

Life, itself, can be a creative exercise if we choose for it to be. If the impetus is to find joy even in the very act of creation without attachment, we may find ourselves pleasantly surprised at what “success” may bleed through the illusions we cut through. What once was a wound becomes a symbol of power — a testament to how far you’ve gone and how far you’ll continue to grow.

While failure isn’t always “fun,” it can be useful in terms of experience and perspective when your great successes finally start to succeed. If you can’t laugh along the way and find joy in the journey to that space, then what’s the point?

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