It’s terrifying. You arrive at home after having commuted for a half hour (or more, ugh!) only to realize you don’t remember the drive. Auto-pilot happens to everyone sometimes. Too often, it settles in, a thick fog settling over our entire lives.
What’s going on here?
Our brains, in their complex way, are kicking in to save us calories and time. Why waste precious energy noticing something we saw yesterday and the day before? As far as survival goes, these instincts are absolutely helpful.
For living fully, not so much.
One of the reasons I love spending regular time with young writers is because kids are a constant reminder of what is possible. Kids have superpowers. Actually, we all have these superpowers, but as adults, we often misplace ours.
Have you misplaced any of these superpowers?
Recently, I’ve been watching Anne with an E on Netflix. Among other things, the show is reminding me about Anne’s singular perspective on the world. Time spent outside offers any number of “What if…?” possibilities. What if we coined names that fit the beauty of our local redwood grove or nearby flowering meadow? What if we looked for hints of magic in our everyday lives?
Imagination is a superpower because it turns the mundane into an adventure. All it takes to tap into the imagination is a choice. We choose to ask “What if…?” And while imagination can be silly and whimsical, its power reaches far beyond bringing happiness. Imagination is what allows us to see what’s possible, to imagine innovation and solutions to complex problems and opportunities beyond our current situation.
Imagination allows us to dream up possibilities. Belief invites us to roll up our sleeves and bring our vision to life. We’ve all seen a child tugging on an adult’s sleeve asking “Can I …?” (or if they are grammatically savvy, “May I …?”) Adults are so quick to say no, to give reasons why not. We’ve learned through experience that the world can be full of danger, and disappointment is always a possibility.
When kids ask, “Why not?” it can be difficult to hold back the list of reasons that spring to mind. Too often, those same reasons cause us to not try. Last weekend, I hopped on my bicycle for the first time in years. I hadn’t ridden for a litany of reasons: cars, the possibility of crashing, looking silly. We rode 22 miles, to a local town I’d never visited, and the whole trip was a grand adventure. Why not? Exactly.
There’s a widely quoted myth that children laugh 300-400 times a day, while adults only laugh 17.5 times per day on average. While research doesn’t back this wide discrepancy, in general, most of us know that we laugh less as adults than we did as children. Why? Like imagination and belief, laughter is also a choice. And it’s a third superpower that we all can access anytime we choose.
Laughter changes everything. Just try staying gloomy after a belly-laugh. It’s nearly impossible. Finding laughter when we feel gloomy can be a challenge, but once we start laughing, the impact is immediate and powerful. Hopefully you don’t need any more convincing that laughter is good for you, but if you’d like to study quotes from scientists on the topic, you can find eight here.
If you had a superpower, would you forget about it?
Would you forget to use your super-speed, for instance, or your invisibility? Why, then, do we forget to use our actual superpowers? Maybe all we need is a tiny reminder every once in a while. Hey, there, Naomi. Don’t forget … You have a superpower. You have at least three, in fact.
I’ll be using mine today. How about you?
If you dust off those superpowers, I’d love to hear what adventures ensue. And I’d also love to hear: What other superpowers would you say that we all have, and often misplace? I’m sure these three aren’t the only ones.
Creativity often shows up at the intersection of various thoughts. Here are three on a sense of wonder … what do they spark for you?
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”
– Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
“Believing takes practice.”
– A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
“The ability to retain a child’s view of the world with at the same time a mature understanding of what it means to retain it, is extremely rare – and a person who has these qualities is likely to be able to contribute something really important to our thinking.”
― How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, Mortimer J. Adler
I’m collecting other quotes and images as I continue to spot wonder in our world. Check out my collection on Pinterest.
But in our own lives, we tend to focus on the problems.
Starting with a win is a sure way to keep winning.
Why? We don’t play to our strengths.
What if your approach to learning something new went like this?
- Find a point of connection between what you currently do well and what you want to learn.
- Start with that connection point, and give yourself a small challenge. Choose a challenge you are sure you can tackle.
- When you achieve your goal, celebrate! Tiny mid-journey celebrations help us enjoy the learning process.
- Next, choose a new challenge that stretches you one step further.
- Move forward in this way, small challenge to small challenge.
- If you fail to reach a challenge, don’t fret! Return to your most recent success and analyze what you can learn from the failure. What adjustments will give you a better chance of success the next time around?
- After a few weeks or a month, look back over your progress and note how far you’ve come. Chances are high that you’ll be amazed!
Creativity often shows up at the intersection of various thoughts. Here are three on character … what do they spark for you?
“A diamond gemstone is made up of facets—defined surfaces, sides which each face a particular direction and yet are all connected to one another: distinct aspects of the whole.”
― Marianne Roccaforte, Ph.D., Bridges in the Mind: An Artist’s Handbook for Everyday Living
“Meg, when people don’t know who they are, they are open either to being Xed, or Named.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door
“We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.”
― Gene Luen Yang
Inspired and want more? Check out my growing collection of pins on the many facets of character.
- 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?
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