- Take out a few pieces of differently colored paper and cut out shapes. Cut some circles, squares, rectangles and triangles.
- Arrange your shapes into groupings. See if you can make groupings that have different tones. Can you make a calm grouping? A fierce grouping? A lazy grouping? A creative grouping?
- Choose one of your groups of images, and write a poem that captures that same tone.
- Arrange your shapes and words on a page, and then share your work with someone. Celebrate this small, creative act.
- Getting past a bear
- Escaping a snake pit
Creativity often shows up at the intersection of various thoughts. Here are three on shape … in its various iterations. What do these thoughts spark for you?
- First, I choose an area where I feel stuck.
- I work through the diagnostic tool to see what kind of stuck moment I’m in.
- Then, I use the Unstuck tool to play around with solutions.
- You’ll find that the Unstuck website has all kinds of enticing tools and ideas in addition to the app. Be careful not to get lost in all the goodness!
- Allow your exploration to be play. The more you let go, the more you’ll gain through this process.
- Choose a project.
- Dare to fail. In your next creative session, dare to create badly. Dare to write badly, or to be a bad actor. Let go of being careful. Forget what you know about craft and just throw yourself into creating.
- After you’re done, reflect on the experience. Much of what you did may have been over the top or poorly executed, and yet, you might find bits and pieces that have potential, too. When you throw caution to the wind, you move into new territory, and new territory tends to be full of discovery.
We’ve all heard stories of famous people who struggled, who failed, and who ultimately succeeded. Listening to these examples, I can almost hear soaring movie soundtracks underscoring the victories. These inspiring tales make us think: Someday, my challenges will be worthwhile because I’ll have a story to tell. I’ll create a theme park or an internationally successful book series.
But what if we don’t? Will our failures be any less meaningful to us, if we don’t turn out to be as successful as Walt Disney or J.K. Rowling?
Expectations Can Make or Break Us
Maybe our failures will be meaningful as plot points on our way to huge success. But what about failure’s significance today? Think of each failure as a debt. We invest $10 one day–a small struggle–and $100 the next with a bigger embarrassment. Maybe we crash and burn with a $100,000 disaster. The debt racks up. We pull ourselves up again and again with the expectation that one day, an overwhelming stroke of success will outweigh each failure’s pain. Unfortunately, lightning doesn’t strike that often. By the time we have a $1,000,000 debt against future success, we’re more likely to fall apart than to strike it big.
The Value of Failure
It is possible that any life will turn out to be an epic tale of failure and success. However, we can all count on our lives being a day-to-day mixture of hardship and joy. We can make practical decisions about how to deal with failure in the day-to-day, so we don’t rack up future debt. As with money, the small decisions we make matter. We can be strategic now, or we can pile up hardship on our future selves.
Failure has a cost, but it also has value. When we are willing to feel the sting of failure and learn the lesson failure has to teach, we can invest our learning in next steps. Each success or failure builds upon our lifetime of experience. What we learn helps to ground us, adds to our future decision-making capacity, and expands our toolkit and understanding.
How Failure Moves Us Forward
Failure Builds Resilience
Many people fear public speaking. In fact, what they actually fear is the embarrassment of messing up in front of a crowd. The more often a person speaks to groups of people, the more this fear decreases. Why? Because over time, we learn that while embarrassment is uncomfortable, it’s also survivable. When a speaker can roll with inevitable mistakes, she can focus on more important goals, such as clear communication and connecting with an audience.
Surviving failure builds resilience, whether it is a small failure, such as tripping over a word in front of a crowd, or a larger one, such as launching a new product or artwork to lackluster response. The secret to gaining resilience through failure is to:
- Look the failure in the face.
Yep. I messed up. Yep. I feel embarrassed. And I wish I could go back and make different decisions.
- Ask yourself: What can I learn from this experience?
Make something of the experience right now. Rather than hoping that future success will make this moment meaningful, reflect on what happened, apply any learning that you can to your next decision, and move forward.
Failure Provides Information
Once you’ve built enough resilience to brave failure regularly, experimentation becomes a powerful tool. If your mindset requires that you present a perfect face, moving into new territory is challenging. But, when you’re able to share your flaws-and-all self with those around you, you can start to beta test.
How might this look? What if you wrote a picture book a day, rather than trying for one perfect one every month? What if you hopped on Facebook Live daily for a week rather than painstakingly planning a one-time presentation? The secret to gaining information through failure is to:
- Quickly iterate.
Quick iteration offers a speedy feedback loop. Growth speeds up because you’re putting more material out there and receiving feedback more often.
- Listen carefully.
In quick iteration loops, some of your feedback can rub your ego the wrong way. You know things would be more polished with more time spent on the details. Do your best to see past the less helpful comments so you can hear the more substantial feedback. What’s working? What should you build on? What do you need to let go?
Failure Closes a Door
Sometimes failure closes a door. A real and true no can be particularly painful. That said, even closed-door failures can move us sideways in unexpectedly positive ways. When failure closes a door, we gain important information. Our past approach is no longer an option. Also, we gain time that otherwise would have been tied up. Where will we invest our time? What did we learn through the experience that we can invest in future steps?
The secret to moving forward after failure closes a door is to:
- Grieve the loss.
Grief must be experienced, now or later. The most healthy way to deal with loss is to brave the pain of it, to accept it for what it is, and to honestly process the emotions. Beware the expectations that show up, vying for your attention. It’s true, this moment may pay off sometime in the future, but the experience has value right now. You are gaining strength, confidence, and grit.
- Decide what to let go and what to carry forward.
Some of the lessons learned will be worth carrying forward, but some disappointments should be let go. Consider treating this decision-making process as though you are packing a suitcase. Examine every thought and belief before folding it and placing it inside the suitcase. Make sure each article in the suitcase has a productive purpose.
- Take action.
When the wind exits our sails, we can either drift or turn on the motor. Even if we’re not entirely sure of the overall plan, it’s important to take action. Once we’re in motion, we can start to iterate and find our way forward through actionable feedback.
Failure isn’t romantic. Like grime, it can build up over time and get in our way. However, if we’re mindful about our reaction to failure when it shows up, we can use difficult circumstances to grow. With thicker skin, small failures can roll off our backs, and we can increase our ability to succeed by putting ourselves in increasingly challenging situations. The more pitches we swing at, the more we’re likely to hit a ball out of the park.
Have you experienced a failure that helped you to grow? I’d love to hear your story. Share in the comments section below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. In the meantime, here’s to you and your creativity!
Failure can easily be romanticized. We hear stories of people who failed again and again, who persevered, and ultimately succeeded. It is important to remember: While they were falling down, struggling, and daring to rise again, these successful people didn’t know what we know now. They did not know that one day their failures would make an excellent story.
No one can promise that failure will lead to success. And yet, finding ways to rise up after failure, to lessen our fear of failure and the power that fear holds over our lives and work, is a worthwhile pursuit.
So, with all of that in mind, here are three thoughts on failure for your consideration. What feelings or thoughts do they spark for you?
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
“It is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so. “
― William Shakespeare
“The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.”
― Brene Brown
Looking for more? Explore these thoughts and stories about failure and rising again on my Pinterest board.
“Life must be lived and curiosity kept alive.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt –
In this article, Eleanor Roosevelt shares her perspective on the importance of curiosity. She notes that curiosity is essential for living fully–it allows us to engage with our world, learn, explore, and find new solutions.
Curiosity is the spark that causes us to look around and connect with one another.
A couple days ago, I listened to a podcast interview with Uli Beutter Cohen, founder of the Subway Book Review project. I’m pretty sure that Uli and Eleanor Roosevelt would have been fast friends. They share a philosophy that every person carries a wealth of stories and life experience. When we are willing to connect, to ask questions, to live a life filled with curiosity, we thrive. What I loved about Uli’s interview was the energy in her voice, the lit-up aliveness that wove through her words as she described her project. She believes that books are an accessory. We put them on like we might put on a hat or scarf. Books may be a more telling accessory than a hat or scarf because they help us get to know a person, especially when the person is willing to share why he or she chose this particular book on this particular day. That’s what Uli’s project is all about: she doesn’t plug into her headphones and tune out on the subway. She asks people about the books they’re reading, and collects stories one at a time.
It’s tempting to look around and think that there are two types of people … the ones who are curious and the ones who are not. It’s more difficult to admit that we each have the capacity for curiosity and the capacity for disinterest. The decision to live with a spirit of curiosity is not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it choice. That’s why I love the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt above. We must keep our curiosity alive.
What does the care and feeding of curiosity look like?
- Keeping our eyes open
- Asking questions
- Reflecting on what we see and hear
How healthy is your curiosity right now?
When curiosity faces off with fear, which team do you cheer on?
Your knee-jerk answer may be, “Curiosity, of course.” Curiosity has a positive feel to it, and we know that studies, like this one, show that curiosity helps us learn more effectively.
Do you act on your curiosity, though?
Fear is built into our DNA. It’s there for a reason: to save our lives in dangerous situations. When we wonder what it will feel like to dive into a deep pool from a cliff’s edge, our fear pipes up for our own good. Erring on the side of curiosity in life-threatening situations will eventually catch up with us. Maybe this cliff dive is safe, but will the next one be? How about the one after that?
Many people want to follow their curiosity, but in real-life situations, they follow their fear. In a cliff-dive situation, the decision to err on the safe side may be the better choice. However, the majority of fear-based choices aren’t life or death ones. What’s at risk is embarrassment or the possibility of failure.
When have you backed away from a cliff’s edge and missed an opportunity for growth?
Last week, I had the privilege of being a part of a story circle exercise with a group of fourth and fifth grade students. We each told stories about a time we had tried something new, and after we had listened to all of the stories, we compared notes. Many of the stories had elements of danger to them. Curiosity didn’t always come out as the hero. However, I noticed that in stories where safety wasn’t the issue, where the situation was more of a self-imposed boundary, the decision to take action required two parts.
First, the person had to imagine him or herself as the kind of person who could take this sort of risk.
Standing in the line to ride a roller coaster, waiting a turn to swing on a rope over a lake, listening in the dark backstage for a cue, we watch a mental movie of what might happen. If we allow fear to be the director of the movie, we watch a worst-case-scenario highlight reel. If we allow curiosity to be the director, we watch a possibility-filled show. Often, the two battle it out for the director’s seat, so we watch a story that swings back and forth wildly between the two.
Then, comes the true moment of decision.
We may have dared to stand backstage or to wait in line, but will we step into the stage lights or pull down the bar that locks us into the roller coaster seat? The choice depends on the movie we’ve watched. What do we believe will happen?
If we’re not aware of the power of that mental movie, we leave the director up to our subconscious. We let fear and curiosity duel without any oversight. Too often, fear wins. Fear’s powerful question, “Why risk the consequences?” runs the show.
Why risk the consequences?
Fear’s list of consequences includes embarrassment, wounded pride, and even painful failure. If you line those possibilities up against the consequences of ignoring your curiosity–missed opportunities, getting stuck in the same-old, same-old, and never exploring your capacity–which would you rather risk?
For many, a fear-directed life is a regret-filled life.
Our fear is more powerful than we think, and it takes the director role more often than we’d prefer. We don’t realize how often we’re creating a reality for ourselves because we’re so sure that this is the way life is. That’s fear, directing our lives, keeping us within safe boundaries so that we don’t embarrass ourselves. What might be possible if we risked a little short-term discomfort? Wouldn’t it be interesting to explore our personal and collective capacity? What’s beyond all of those self-imposed limitations?
Sometimes your fear ought to win. It is wise to check the water’s depth before diving off a cliff. However, curiosity deserves room to play, too, if only to offer an alternate perspective. When that mental movie kicks in, consider asking these three questions to give curiosity a fighting chance.
Questions to fuel your curiosity:
- What are the true risks of this opportunity?
- What might this opportunity make possible?
- Do the possibilities outweigh the risks?
When we try something new and fail, we learn firsthand what failure will mean. We might skin our knees or feel ridiculous in front of a crowd. Then comes the inevitable next question. What’s next? We bandage our knees or take a red-faced bow, and then have the opportunity to try again. We discover that while skinned knees hurt, they don’t have to stop us. In fact, we realize that we learned something in that first failed attempt about the way we need to jump. The skinned knees actually led to our ability to not skin our knees next time. Maybe we won’t land the second jump or the third, but as we learn more and more, we also strengthen our resolve. We see that many of the possibilities that fear throws out are ho-hum. True, we might feel a little pain, but we also feel a corresponding thrill of possibility. We might actually be able to do this thing that we thought was impossible. And if this impossible thing can be done … what then?
I’d love to hear your stories about how curiosity and fear have battled it out in your life. How do you know when to lean toward curiosity, and how do you know when to listen to fear’s wisdom? Do you have strategies for revising your mental movie when fear unhelpfully seizes the floor? Share below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. I always love hearing from you.
Visit the Writerly Play Workshop and break your problem into pieces with this step-by-step strategy. Never heard of the WP Workshop? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.
When you ask the wrong questions, you end up with the wrong answers. Seems logical enough, right? Most of us don’t intentionally ask the wrong questions. However, just because we don’t intend to ask low-value questions doesn’t mean we don’t ask them.
Here are a few sneaky questions that might pop up from time to time:
- Why is everyone else succeeding faster than me?
- Why didn’t I get started on this project sooner?
- Why is this project so challenging?
- What should I do about this mess?
- When will things start working out?
- What’s wrong with me?
Questions such as these may seem like a tiny, not-so-helpful habit. The truth is, questions such as these can completely derail us. Why? Because our mind goes to work on solving the questions we feed it. So, instead of tackling our problems, our mind is doggedly mapping out wrong turns, or collecting reasons to support our unintentional belief that nothing is ever going to change in our lives.
It’s not enough to realize that these questions aren’t helping us.
Knowing we shouldn’t do something usually doesn’t stop us from doing it. In fact, if we focus on the questions we shouldn’t ask, we’ll end up being unable to avoid thinking about them. If, instead, we have a strategy to help us find more positive, helpful questions, we will have a clear way to address any negative questions that arise.
When you find yourself in a low-value question spiral, ask yourself:
- Is this question pointing out a real problem?
- If yes, move on to question two.
- If no, release the question and go do something playful or active. Move into a new, more optimistic space.
- What is the real problem?
- State the problem in clear language, such as “I’m frustrated with how long it is taking me to finish the script I’m writing.”
- Review your past experiences. When have you had a win in a similar situation?
- Think expansively. Maybe you’ve never finished a script before, but you have finished a project of some kind.
- Keep reviewing until you find three examples of (even loosely) similar wins and look for commonalities between the situations. What seems to work for you?
- Take note of situations where you definitely didn’t succeed. They may add an important element to your ultimate question.
- Shape what you’ve discovered into a clear, specific question.
- Your question might now sound like, “How might I give myself a motivating deadline that doesn’t make me feel like I can’t breathe?
- Brainstorm elements of this question so that you can break the problem into smaller, easy-to-handle questions.
- Answer your big question by tackling these smaller questions one at a time.
- Your set of questions might look like:
- WHY is this project important? What big-picture vision can I tap into? What will finishing this project mean for me and for others?
- WHAT are the milestones between where I am and my completed project?
- HOW LONG does it normally take me to write one scene?
- WHEN might I expect to be done, given the milestones I’ve determined and my regular writing speed?
- WHO might help me stick to my goal?
- WHERE might I get stuck? What strategies might I use to overcome my obstacles?
The right question can transform an impossible roadblock.
A set of questions such as this can turn a desperate plea such as “Why is this project so challenging?” into a manageable situation. However, unless you’re superhuman, it’s unlikely that your first impulse in the midst of a crisis is to ask productive questions. That’s why the first four steps are essential. Once you have gently moved yourself out of downward-spiral thinking into a more confident, optimistic space, you are able to tap into the wisdom that’s there, inside you, waiting to be uncovered. No one is as much an expert on you as YOU. You know what works for you and what doesn’t. All you need is the reliable process to help you find what you knew all along.
What unhelpful question have you been wrestling with lately? How might this process bring momentum to a blocked area of your life? Go ahead and try it out, and then come back and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear your story. You can comment below or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
Here’s to you and your creativity!