How Do You Cope With Fear Of Failure? Ilayda Arden, 26 January 2013 This session was inspired by the situation that many of my friends and I find ourselves in at present: young artists beginning to take the first tentative career steps into ‘doing stuff’ or ‘making theatre’ and having the constant fear of falling flat on our faces in these attempts. Of course this fear is never exclusive to those starting out, and the people involved in the session were by no means just those that were early in their careers but also individuals who were tried and tested in the theatre world. First came the discussion of what people perceived as ‘failure’. Is failure getting a bad review for a show; not having a project completed on time; bankrupting yourself; letting a team of people down; never gaining recognition after many, many years of hard work; or gaining the recognition, but never really enjoying it and making what YOU want to make? The possibilities seemed endless, after all, each individual has their own aspirations, targets and expectations of themselves. Eventually, we settled on referring to failure in a very general sense- I'm sure that in each individual's mind, there was a specific vision of failure floating around as we discussed the situations around it. Some key questions and points that revolved around the topic then: -Learning how fear can manifest itself: 1- In the earliest parts of inspiration, the embryonic stages, where you have a tiny little bean of a single idea, some people expressed that the presence of fear often resulted in them being terrified of even attempting to vocalise it/think about it/try it out because of the fear that its not original/totally shit/immature/pure conjecture etc and so nothing ever happens. A suggested response to this was to just take the plunge, embrace it, if you're scared of doing something cliched, then fuck it, do the most cliched thing in the world ever, and play with it, use it to your advantage. 2- You are totally terrified by an idea/project/task but it's exhilarating terror that sparks you into moving forward: rushing, making plans, and then suddenly halfway through, you come crashing down, have a meltdown and it's too hard, you're riddled with self doubt and panic. A particular response to this stood out in that someone described this like a horse race, where exhilaration and panic went head to head. The trick is to use panic to spur exhilaration on wherever possible and to try to not let panic get too much of a lead… 3- You are doing a project, and someone of worth (venue, friend, critic, potential future contact, classmate) asks about it. You present it in a cynical/self-deprecating manner, hoping that when it all finally comes together and this person sees the work they (and you) will be pleasantly surprised after all the low expectations. Response- Remember that if you tell someone of worth that something is crap/undersell yourself- they will have no reason to invest in it at ALL and may never actually come to see it/hire you in the end anyway. Off the back of this, someone suggested that the simple act of practising saying nice things to yourself about your work or what you can offer could be quite useful, so that when someone else asks about it- you can talk about it without feeling the need to preface it with ‘well, it’s a bit shit but…' Similarly, someone else mentioned that often times, the trick isn't to talk yourself or your show up, it's just about showing a genuine interest in what you're doing, and being pleasantly mannered when doing so, even if you are bloody terrified of it. -We then discussed the idea that even if we fail as artists, the world doesn't stop- we will almost always learn something from the experience, absorb it, and move on, in some way or another. And that for many of the group, it was important to remember that the PROCESS of creating, or achieving a goal, was just as important as the PRODUCT or the achievement itself, if not more. - Many people agreed that the FEAR is worse than the failure itself. This kept coming up with many people stating that in the instances they had failed, yes, it had absolutely SUCKED but, that life had gone on, and that eventually… Well, they started again. - Remember that your expectations are not the same as others… You may have grand visions and the perfect idea and everything may need to be 1050000% perfect, because you're creating something, or you want to the best, or because you know that's what you're capable off- but the chances are that not everyone else in the entire of theatre land has the same expectation from you. -Leading off from the above however, someone mentioned that they get very angry when they see ‘bad’ theatre. This sparked two areas of discussion: 1. From a consumer point of view, if someone comes to see your work and they feel like it wasn't worth their time or money, that sucks. BUT, we came back to the point of art being subjective- one persons ‘meticulous and dangerously silent’ is another persons ‘wanky self-indulgent bollocks’. And if you have failed to please someone, but instead have made them feel something very negative, then you have still succeeded in making someone feel something. 2-The importance of not crumbling under criticism was discussed, with particular importance on being able to take negative comments and trying to learn from them (within reason), as they may well be able to help shape your work/skills. -Being more like children. Someone mentioned the creative ability of 4 year olds, and how studies have revealed that the age of 4 can often be considered a creative goldrush age of sorts- because the inhibitions that we pick up as we go through formal education and adolescence have not yet been built up as they often are. Giving yourself permission to play was the phrase used. -Remember some people LOVE seeing failure. From a creative point of view- people often love seeing things fail-and this is something that you can often use to your advantage. This moved onto discussion of clowning, and shows like the SpiderMan musical becoming successes despite their… failings. The question this left hanging though was that, it's fine if your original intention was to fail and for people to see (clowning), but what if you set out to be amazing and fail and people see that? There wasn't an answer to this, except… How would people know it was supposed to be amazing?! -And finally TALKING about it. The discussion group observed that people seem to overlook this one quite a lot. Sometimes just sitting down and talking to someone about it can be AMAZING, whether it's because the person you're speaking to is giving you treasured life advice/support, brainstorming creatively with you, has completely misunderstood what you meant or has a completely contradictory point of view, talking about your fear of failure can help you gain clarity, take a few deep breaths and pull yourself together… It was mentioned that this should be taken with a pinch of salt of course- if you're a director it's probably not a good idea to rant to the cast and crew that the entire production is going to be a massive flop- because these people depend on you. But finding other people like assistant directors, friends, or family to occasionally say ‘im kind of scared’ to could help make you realise that everyone is always just a little bit scared of something… Tags: creating work, self belief, Coping, Theatre, talking, jobs, freedom, psychology, career, children, failure, coping, Children, fear, theatre, Failure, confidence Comments: 2 Deborah Henry-Pollard, 6 February 2013 We all hit this fear of failure and it can just stop us in our tracks. But I think there is something to be said about deciding if something is a failure. In science, they experiment over and over assuming the first time, tenth time, hundreth time, it will not work. But each time, they learn something new and can eliminate the ways that don't work. They embrace the trial and error so that they can find new and exciting ways to do stuff. However, in many other spheres we seem to expect that we can get it ‘right’ the first time and the fear of not doing this is what shackles us or sends us into a flat spin. I always love the quote from Samuel Beckett - “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (And without failure, we would never have had post it notes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-it_note) And here's a blog I wrote on embracing not knowing. http://www.catchingfireworks.co.uk/blog/2010/10/15/Embrace-the-Moments-of-Not-Knowing.aspx#comments Li-E Chen, 7 February 2013 Really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing this!