In a series on Good Ideas, Our Flirtations with Them, and Our Commitments to Them.

Today, the discussion is a bit dark and rather scary.  I want to talk about failure, because it has a very important place in a series on Good Ideas.  The creative life simply does not progress without failure.

I know this from experience!  When I was an art student, I took my first pottery class.  How exciting!  How wonderful to put hands in clay, and mold it on the spinning wheel into a sleek, organic, functional vessel!  I could totally rock my neuvo-hippie chick thing, sell some pottery at a festival or two, and have lots of Christmas gifts on hand for everyone!

Except that when I sat down at the wheel and hit the pedal, goopy wet clay spat in vicious circles and hit me in the face, covered the wall, and coated the other zen-clay students.  I was humiliated and so disappointed.

After that, the only time I’d return to the studio was late, late at night when few other students were working. I guess my hope was to work out all the kinks and appear one day in my daytime class as if nothing had happened, as if I had my “slip” together. 🙂 In reality, I progressed very slowly, as there were no teachers and not many experienced students in the lab at that time of night!

That was a long time ago, and I’ve learned some very valuable lessons since – primarily about grace and the freedom to be a fool and to fail. Here’s what I want to share today: Not failing (and not failing publicly) will prevent you from succeeding.

  • Failing publicly means you tried to add value in a way that would impact other people.
  • Failing again means you tried again.
  • Making a variety of mistakes means that you are experimenting with a variety of “what if’s” and “maybe’s” and “hopefully’s”
  • Failing publicly means that you are in a position to be noticed (oh no!) and get some help, tweaking, direction…
I believe that purposing to add value, trying again, experimenting, and seeking critique as well as support, will lead to successes. Purposing to achieve perfection the first time, and to make sure that everyone thinks well of you all the time will–ironically–lead to defeat.
Me and my giant kayak inspired sculpture, circa 1992.
By the way, I finally made a lil (imperfect) tea pot–and I love it!

A few questions to ponder:

  • If you’ve ever felt paralyzed by creative failure, what got you going again?
  • What kinds of things have you learned from failure?
  • Do you put yourself in positions where you can fail publicly? If not, what can you do to be more vulnerable?
  • What advice would you give a friend who is stuck in failure?

Alright, talk to you later creative friends!  I hope I didn’t scare you too much today. 🙂  See you soon. 🙂



  1. Wow, Heidi! What a great post! The wheel was not my friend in art class either ; )
    My husband and I are both creatives at heart. I feel like we cycle back and forth between total confidence and a complete lack there of. When I’m in a rut he’s always there to pick me back up and vice-versa. When things don’t work out as planned or hoped for, I always try to think back to other things I’ve accomplished and look forward to other things I can do. I try my best to redirect the energy for the thing that didn’t work out toward new and exciting things on the horizon. Eventually something will catch on. That’s kinda the mode I’m in right now. Perseverance is key.

    1. Ah, yes – the cycle. I’m familiar with it!
      It’s really cool that you have a partner to lean on in your creative journey – it seems that’s a pretty important element in gaining perspective. And I love it that you landed on perseverance at the end of your comment. Naturally, I’m more of an “if it’s fun, do it – if it’s hard, quit” person. Only over the years have I learned a thing or two about the richness of hanging in there through thick and thin. I think we creatives can be a pretty powerful force if we learn to ‘stick with it’!

  2. Hi Heidi,
    I’m a teacher, and we fail all the time. “That lesson didn’t work.” or “That project was fun, but they didn’t learn the content.” Also children are very different, so what works one year may not work the next. It’s continual practice. That also makes it exciting. Lots of preparation, and then you have to be ready for anything.

    This is a lesson we teach the children, too, because many of them hate making mistakes, but if you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t learning anything.


    1. I like your phrase, “lots of practice, and then be ready for anything”. That seems to be quite a truism. Thanks for your insight (you always have good ones)! I imagine you’re a very good teacher. 🙂
      – Heidi

  3. Ah, see failure as success. I try to make this my mantra, but sometimes self-deprecation gets in the way. When you put yourself out there, that counts for something (maybe everything), even if it falls flat. Your writing is very beautiful. You’ve got something really special happening here.

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