I write a lot about failure and rejection. I don’t do it to intentionally bring down anybody’s mood; instead, I want to share how integral failure and rejection are to the artistic– and human– experience as a whole.
“The Bookeeper” 5.5 x 8 inch pastel on drawing paper
Rejection hurts. Failure can be devastating. As humans, we’re hard-wired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Unfortunately, hiding from rejection and failure (and shielding those we care about from it) doesn’t do anybody favors in the long run.
I try to make it a regular habit to acknowledge failure and rejection in front of my kids. They may think a little less of me when they see me fail, but I want them to see that the most important thing about experiencing failure and rejection is to get back up and try again.
I’m not just talking about my creative efforts here! I’ve taken up gardening, determined to cure the curse of my brown thumb (especially painful to me, as I come from a long line of green-thumbed women). My daughter used to be devastated when our plants got attacked by some unanticipated insect. After a year of many trials and errors, she sees that as long as we learn from our experiences and keep putting in the effort, we can still enjoy our gardening projects. She is also now an expert at spotting aphids and tomato hornworms.
As a young student, I think I learned more from the school year I earned a couple of failing grades on my report card than any others. Sometimes, those powerful lessons of what not to do stick much better than the times I coasted through an experience and succeeded.
Case in point: a couple of months ago I spontaneously grabbed a bunch of ingredients and experimented with making my first enchiladas. They turned out delicious! I haven’t made them since, because I can’t remember the details of how I came up with the recipe in the first place. This occasionally happens to me when I paint– I’ll glide right through a great painting from start to finish, and have no idea how to later replicate what I did.
In contrast, when I’ve struggled with a painting and failed (or gotten a rejection letter, ruined dinner, or lost my broccoli to cabbage aphids), I clearly remembered the details and made a note of them for next time.
If you know someone who’s afraid of rejection and failure, a hobby that’s out of the comfort zone is a great way to overcome those fears. Creativity is such a personal feat. Achieving anything less than instant success can cut us artists to the core. Failing at something I enjoy but hold less close to my heart takes away some of the sting, but still gives me the valuable experience of getting comfortable with putting failures behind me and moving on to the next project.
I’ll be exhibiting at Temecula’s Art Off the Walls event on Friday, June 5th from 6-9–feel free to stop in and check out the 15 artists and live music!