by Jenny Hansen
I just watched a video by one of my favorite motivational speakers, Simon Sinek, where he states: "There is a big difference between 'falling' and 'failing.'"
How powerful is that? So many authors suffer terrible anxiety over their fear of failure. "Failure" often sounds so very catastrophic. What if we changed our language and called it "falling" instead? Maybe falling down is normal. Maybe it is okay.
The video, which is only two and a half minutes, was an a-ha moment for me.
Failure’s got such a crappy reputation because it makes most people feel bad. No one likes to feel painful emotions. According to this wonderful article at VeryWell Mind, there are several practices that can help take the sting out of a perceived failure.
Uncomfortable emotions like embarrassment, anxiety, anger, sadness, and shame are hard to manage. This article offers the thought that “allowing yourself to feel the emotions is motivating. It can help you work harder to find better solutions so that you’ll improve next time.”
Minimizing pain doesn’t make it go away. Distractions and escapism just kick the pain down the road.
Call a friend, play with a pet, or practice positive self-care like exercise, meditation, or a quiet bubble bath. These are all healthy ways to deal with pain. Find what works for you.
Does anyone else have those irrational beliefs about failure? That crazy head tape is the worst part of growing up with a narcissist – they say it to you first, then you then say it to yourself.
It took me years to stop the internal monologue that says failure means you’re “bad” or unlikable or that you’ll never succeed. Being able to reframe failure was such a relief.
Examples of more realistic thoughts:
Many of those irrational failure monologues encourage us to take responsibility for a bunch of crap that’s not our fault. In simpler terms: you’re only responsible for cleaning up your own side of the street.
Lots of people fall down. Thomas Edison and Walt Disney are two of the most famous. Jack London’s Call of the Wild was rejected more than 900 times. We are in a business with an enormous “failure rate.” Remember, you only need one person to say "yes" to set you on your path to success.
When you fall down, get up. Very few great plans are made from the fetal position.
You can always make a plan once you’ve forced yourself to get up, to stop dwelling on what didn’t go right. Great plans come from focusing on what you will do, and especially what you will do differently. Step one is always to pick yourself up after you fail. Check yourself for actual and metaphorical bruises. Apply "ice" to those wounds in the form of the suggestions in #3 above.
A word on the most self-destructive behavior I've watched us creative types engage in: comparison. Worrying about someone else's strategy or success is crazy-making. (And a guaranteed way to help you down the path to perceived failure.)
I love Laura Drake's "Writer Pep Talk," which is perfect for this situation. It's short and it's simple:
Say it slow with me now.
No. One. Gets. It. All.
She said that to me for years before my head cleared enough to hear her. I was a struggling young mother and it was a vast relief to let some of my perfectionist burdens slide off my aching shoulders.
It's a simple, logical fact that most of us are truly great at only a few things. And maybe not so great at other things. Some of us are great at writing dialogue and terrible at writing body language. (*raises hand*) Some people have great discipline, but no ideas. Others can write short but not long. Some writers struggle with storytelling or world-building or grammar. But no one gets it all.
So why do so many writers believe they have to be good at everything or they are failures?
Laura's advice helped Baby Writer Me keep going. Accepting that "no one gets it all" allowed me to imagine creative ways I could acquire more than I had, especially as a new mother. Maybe I could share the load...let someone see the first draft...hire a housecleaner or a virtual assistant.
I began to think that maybe that most hideous of all "S-words" (should) could go suck an egg.
I realized I could fall down, without feeling like my world would fall down around me.
I'm sharing Sinek's advice so I'm not the only one following this road to a better mindset. His advice, "to grow our own strengths, rather than be intimidated by the strengths of others," is so powerful for writers. (Plus, I always share the good stuff with my peeps here at WITS.)
I'm proposing we take failure out of the equation, and simply called it "falling." That we embrace the belief that we can always get back up and try again, maybe with a friend or fellow writer who can give us the encouragement we need.
I'm proposing that it's okay to fall down.
What are your thoughts on "failing" vs "falling down?" Do you struggle with any of this? Please share your thoughts with us down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.
Top Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Jenny, this post really, really, REALLY hit home for me. I've successfully published many novels, but then I switched gears and decided to write an historical novel. I threw myself into research and loved every minute I spent in library archives, and I still think this book is the best I've ever written. When my agent sent it out (after 4 years of research and writing), all we heard from editors was, well, "No." I felt like I'd really failed, and it took me a while to pick myself up and say, well, what did I learn from this experience? I learned a lot, it turns out, which I'm applying to the manuscript I'm writing now. So, in essence, instead of feeling like you "failed," think about what you've learned, and maybe that will help you move forward.
Great post, as always. Thank you.
I will bet that that book is magnificent, Holly! One of the toughest things about our business is that so many people have the power to tell us no. Stay strong!
Perhaps you will take that work and self-publish it someday?
Thank you for this helpful post! Words matter. Falling down is natural and leads to getting up again, and growth. Failure is . . . failure.
You are very welcome, Sarah! It is tough to fall down, whether people acknowledge that or not. One of the reasons I admire writers so much is that we are stubborn souls who always get up.
I fall down a lot and can usually pick myself back up. But sometimes are harder than others. That is when I am especially grateful for my writer buddies, and try to do the same for them. Support groups are awesome.
That video really struck home. Thank you.
Thanks Ellen! I really love Simon's perspective on things. That video really hit home for me too!. And you, my friend, are fantastic at being resilient and stubborn and persevering even when you fall down. Bravo!
An excellent post at just the right moment! I'm in the process of getting my fourth novel completed - and I'm struggling with the "production" piece. Not the writing. But the layout and typeface and font. All the little stuff that is making me fear that my work will be ruined but my weak skillset. This year, I've had to work with new vendors - my regulars - retired. Ugh. The pain of learning something new. But now, I will reframe it. And forgive myself for not being an expert in it all. Thank you. You've given me a helping hand "up".
It's so hard that the business of writing and the business of publishing require two completely different skill sets. I'm sorry your vendors retired, and you are having to learn a bunch of new skills quickly. That is wicked hard.
I have faith that you WILL learn it though. You are super smart, and stubborn as every writer must be. I do recommend that you reach out in your writer groups for recommendations. It's time to find some new awesome vendors!
I wasn't raised to fear failure, I was raised to believe that was what I was. I then feared reinforcing that belief. So, yeah, same result. Yet again, Jenny, you've given me another piece of the positive author's life I've been steadily building for a decade. I am following my dream for me and am making it a reality. We fail by not doing. Falling, though, I can do that over and over again and not care about the scrapes and bruises. Thank you! ?
It takes so long to de-program from those sorts of childhoods. I'm sorry you went through that. And I'm so glad it's better now and you get to do what you love.
LOVE, love, love this, Jenny. It's so hard to accept that failure is a necessary stage on the road to succeeding, but so essential. Great encouragement and advice you've shared here (especially "Very few great plans are made from the fetal position"--hilarious and true), along with our Laura Drake's useful mantra too. Thanks!
Awwww....thanks Tiffany! You and I both have the same favorite sentence. That made me smile so hard when I read your comment yesterday! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post..
I told someone else that I write posts like this as much for me as I do for y'all. 🙂
This is a great reminder!
I love the part about replacing the self talk. It is key to fighting the doubts that sneak up on almost every creative person.
Replacing that self talk is key, Kris!! All us writers would beat ourselves to death otherwise.
I remember my father repeating the same thing to me over and over. "You only fail when you stop trying." That was his mantra. If something doesn't work, learn from it, then back up, adjust your approach, and try again. Experience is a great teacher, but to get experience you have to stub your toe once in a while. It's a normal part of life.
Your Daddy was a wise man, Bob! I agree that giving up is the worst thing, especially for creatives. Giving up a project...fine. But giving up our creative life? That's just a tragedy.
Great reminders, Jenny! It is all in how we look at it. For me, after failing many times, I have begun to look at it as experimentation. Like scientists--try one thing, when it doesn't work, try something else. Instead of attaching emotions to the outcome, I try to view it more as collecting data and learning. The main benefit has been a greater openness to trying new things, which is fun.
My childhood skating instructor used to say, "If you're not falling, you're not trying!" :O)
I like the idea of "failure" as experimentation - it sounds like a science project. My sister always told me her fave part of science is that failure wasn't really a part of it. Even when the hypothesis was wrong, she could adjust and test a new hypothesis.
And I read your last sentence and thought, "OMG, she has that perfect skater look, even now!" 🙂
Aw, Jen, the fact that you remember something I said years ago makes me feel so good - so many have helped me, and if I've done something to pay that back (unwittingly, as usual;) I'm SO happy!
I fall down too, just like everyone. I lie in bed some nights, remembering my failures, times I've hurt others, REALLY dumb things I've done... I sure didn't get it all, either.
But I get up the next morning and try again. All I can do is be a better person than yesterday . . . and I have to believe that's got to add up after awhile!
I'm so happy to make you so happy! You've touched many many writers and hopefully that comforts you in those times when you fall on your behind (or your friend). LOLOL.
An excellent post, Jenny! And isn't Laura wise? My recent big "fall" sent me into a depression--I didn't final in a couple of recent unpublished contests, no likes on my Carina Twitter pitch, lost out on a writing scholarship. Oh, woe is me. I can wallow until I give up this writing gig or I can knuckle under and see why I didn't final and then get back to work on my story. I'm knee deep in the rewrite of my opening, which I had a gut feeling just wasn't quite there, and was confirmed by the feedback I received. My story will be much stronger as a result. Yep, never give up. So, Call of the Wild--900 rejections? Really? Sigh.
Go for it, Barb!
Swear to God, Barb. Here's the way I heard it: Before writing The Call of the Wild, Jack London was rejected 664 times. In a talk Janet Fitch (White Oleander) gave, she said that Call of the Wild itself was rejected more than 900 times. Perseverance wins the day if you write the stories of your heart (which you have) and write them well (which you have). The rest is just subjective opinions, or things we need to re-write.
I'm with Laura...you've totally got this!
p.s. Sorry for the delay in answering this - I had a vicious three day migraine this week and I've been falling down on the job.
Yes, I suffer from fear of failing. Growing up, failure wasn't an option, and it's a hard cycle to break.
That's a very tough cycle to break! Good for you, Denise, working on breaking it. I think you're winning.
This is a great post and video clip, Jenny. You had me at "Embrace Your Emotions." I believe we need to feel all the feels, positive or negative, before we can move on or put it behind us.
Thanks, Karen! I've heard it called "clearing," that processing of emotions. And it is worth it to just go through instead of go around and smack up against those pesky emotions later on.
What a difference changing one letter in a word can make! Your post includes many excellent points, including your suggestion to tell the word "Should" word to go suck an egg. I make it a point to live by another piece of advice I received years ago--Never should on yourself!
Thank you, Jenny, for an excellent post.
"Should" absolutely needs to get kicked out of the lexicon. It sucks wide, and is so damaging to writers...especially most female writers, who get should-ed to death by life anyway.
Reframing failing as falling is powerful advice. Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks for your comment, Gretchen! It helped me to reframe it myself. And I think Simon Sinek is a rockstar!!