81 - Failure, Fear & Just Getting Started


Hello and welcome to the 81st episode of The Spark & The Art creativity podcast. Thank you for subscribing to our weekly podcast, where we alternate between interviews with creative folks from all different career levels and insight and inspiration episodes. All with the intention you’ll get the inspiration you need to get your creative projects started and, more importantly, finished.

I’m your host Tucker and this week is insight and inspiration we’re gonna talk about Fear, Failure and getting started. 

On TheSparkAndTheArt.com I have an anonymous one question survey that pops up and asks “What is the biggest challenge in your creative work?” Recently I was checking through the answers and they are all really good responses.

The survey is anonymous but it tells me what country the comments originated in and this one, that jumped out at me, is from Australia is:  “Starting, getting over fear of failure and just starting.” I go over some of the things I did to get started on the first episode of this podcast How Do You Start Something TheSparkAndTheArt.com/1 to summarize that episode I took a long time from deciding to do a podcast to actually doing a podcast and some of what was holding me back was how forever it all felt once I started would it take over my life? Would I hate it and have to give up? So I made some rules for my self. Short series of episodes so I could end at the end of a series if I wasn’t happy with doing a podcast anymore. I think it was the permission to quit if I wanted to that really helped me get started. It was an experiment and I could take it or leave it if it wasn’t giving me what I wanted. 

But this response from Australia clearly stated “the fear of failure”. There is a lot in that phrase. First it almost sounds cliché like a reason you heard once and thought “yeah that one fits. Fear of failure.” But I have to ask what is that failure you’re so afraid of? What is failure for that matter? You get to create your own definition of failure. Nobody else can tell you when something is a failure because it depends on their definition of what failure is. But if it’s your project it’s your rules. It’s your tiny universe in which you become godlike and write all the dictionaries and thesauruses - thesaurus - thesauri - whatever, books of synonyms. So define failure however you want. 

Here are some thoughts to help you define failure. But first you have to realize that you aren’t the failure. You may fail to finish. You mail to start. A project may not live up to your standards. It is always the project that fails not you. You are the one that can try again next time. You are the one who can start something new. When you here people talk about entrepreneurs they always say something to the effect of "they had a string of failed companies before they found success.” Read that again they had a string of failed companies before they found success. They are just an entrepreneur. The businesses are what failed. The only failed entrepreneur is one that stopped building companies. 

I’m going to use writing a novel as my example today but this could work just as well for writing an album, painting a picture or make a dining set out of pottery. 

Finishing a novel makes you a writer. A half finished novel makes you a writer in progress. A half finished novel that hasn’t been worked on for 8 months makes you a lazy writer. You haven’t failed at being a writer you’ve failed at completing a book. So, if that’s the type of failure that your scared of your first goal is to ensure you finish the book. Schedule a time each day for just writing and have a goal for a word count you can do in that time frame. If you have 1 hour a day what can you reasonably write in that time? 100 words? 1000 words? I don’t know that’s up to you to figure out. Now, that’s all you have to worry about. Meet your schedule. Make our word count. Finish the book. The only failure is if you give up. And if you give up or don’t think you can commit to yourself some personal time to at least work at it you have to go back and reassess if this project is even one that you want to do. If you’re like, "F Yeah!” then you’ll make sure you make that appointment with yourself. 

But maybe you’re fear of failure is that you won’t find a publisher. If you find a publisher maybe your fear of failure is that no one buys your book. Maybe your fear of failure is that the critics write terrible things. But what if you sell a million copies and pay for your house but the critics hate hate hate your book (50 shades of Grey)? What if you sell hardly any copies but you get critical acclaim in every review? Which of those is a failure? Well to be fair neither is truly a failure because you can’t guarantee that anyone will like what you do to either pay for it or say things about it; good or bad. Only you can decide what failure is.

A great Ted Talk on Fear and Failure is James Cameron's Before Avatar … A Curious Boy I’ve mentioned this one previously but it has a good message so I’ll bring it up again. He says in the talk “Failure is always an option. Fear isn’t” You are going to be nervous and fearful when the project is outside of what you normally do. Writing a novel is no simple task. It’s okay to feel the fear. Projects aren’t all going to go the way you want that is always an option that can happen. “Failure is always an option. Fear isn’t”

My last point on failure and fear is from the book Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty it’s a picture book and I just read it to my daughter tonight. Rosie wants to be an engineer and loves to make things. But someone laughs at her invention and she hides her talent and passion inside until one day she builds something for her great great aunt. Although this thing for the Aunt doesn’t work fully the lesson is that “it was the perfect first try.” and this is the passage that I love the most from that book and I probably could have just read this bit and better summed up what I wanted to say and saved you the time it took to listen this far into the episode. It reads:

“Your brilliant first flop was a raging success
Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!
She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere,
who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear.
Life might have its failures, but this was not it.
The only true failure can come if you quit."
So to sum up:
  1. Define what would make the project a failure.
  2. Do everything you can to prevent that from happening.
  3. Feel the fear.
  4. Aaaaand ... go!

Here’s where you get to do some thinking:

  • What project are you having the most trouble getting started on?
  • What is the thing that you are most scared of happening that you would consider your project a failure? 
  • Do you have control over that?
  • If not, is there a way you could gain some control over it?
  • How would you gain that control?
  • If it is completely out of your control can you just … let it go?
  • If you can’t let it go is this issue holding you back in other projects or aspects of your life as well? 
  • Who could you talk to to help get past this limiting belief? 

If you found this episode helpful it would be a great help to the show if you could share it with someone who may also be having some trouble getting started or getting over a fear of failure. You can send them the short URL TheSparkAndTheArt.com/81

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Have you read Rosie Revere, Engineer and what did you think of it? Is there another book or TED Talk you’d recommend on the topic of fear or failure. Let me know on twitter @SparkArtPodcast.

Thanks for listening and remember: you won’t get the art without the work and you won’t do the work without the spark. 

Links for this episode

James Cameron TED talk - https://www.ted.com/talks/james_cameron_before_avatar_a_curious_boy

Andrea Beaty - https://www.andreabeaty.com

Rosie Revere - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ie3Fb9dbCIk