May 5, 2019


Recently, I watched The Creative Brain, a Netflix documentary that looks at the creative process and ways to spark creativity. In one segment, D.B. Weiss, co-creator and writer of the wildly popular TV series Game of Thrones, is asked about the role of failure in his creative process.

Well, I failed very consistently for many years. It was sort of the bedrock of my life process…sometime after college, it started to dawn on me that I saw myself as someone who did this thing – I saw myself as a writer – but I wasn’t very good, and so that  freaked me out…

I gradually…came to the realization that it doesn’t really  matter what you type into the computer. There are words and you can type new ones…just as quickly. All of your failures contribute to your overall ability to do this thing.

So not only does a successful writer suggest that failure is imminent, he credits it for his success.

I can rhyme off a number of my own failures. For example, I failed to:

  • ✓ sustain significant relationships;
  • ✓ establish a long-term teaching career;
  • ✓ manage my money;
  • ✓ be a good soccer, hockey and dance Mom;
  • ✓ practice self-discipline; and
  • ✓ be honest 100% of the time.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Does this mean I’m a failure? I don’t think so, and like D.B. Weiss, some of my failures actually led to success. For example, my failure to establish a teaching career eventually led me to my current line of work which I enjoy more.

Let’s look at failures experienced by some very successful people.

Winston Churchill – He was defeated in every election for public office until he was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain at age 62.

Oprah Winfrey – She was fired from her first job as a TV anchor in Baltimore before becoming a billionaire with her own TV channel.

Vera Wang – She was passed over for the editor-in-chief position at Vogue before becoming one of the fashion industry’s premier designers.

Elvis Presley – His first recordings went nowhere and he was told he couldn’t sing, but now the King is regarded as a cultural icon.

Lady Gaga – She was dropped by her record label but is now a pop icon and winner of several Grammy awards (and recently, an Oscar).

Thomas Edison – He was mute as a child and was told he would never be successful but then became one of the greatest inventors in history.

Emily Dickinson – During her lifetime, she had fewer than a dozen poems published out of her almost 1800 completed, but she is now considered one of America’s greatest poets.

Michael Jordan – He was famously cut from his high school basketball team but went on to become one of the NBA’s greatest all-time players.

Marie Curie – Her nomination to the French Academy of Sciences was rejected but she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.

Lucille Ball – She was a failed B-movie actress who went on to star in the hugely successful sitcom I Love Lucy and become the first woman to run a major television studio.

Stephen King – His first novel Carrie was rejected 30 times, but his books have sold more than 350 million copies.

Albert Einstein – Although he was expelled from school, he won a Nobel Prize in physics.

Vincent van Gogh – He sold only one painting while he was alive yet is considered one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art.

J.K. Rowling – She was divorced and living on welfare before her Harry Potter series turned her into the world’s richest author.

If you feel that success is eluding you and that nothing is going your way, remember that failure has many positive aspects.

It makes you stronger

If everything was easy, you’d end up being weak because you’d never learn resilience. Even though failing can be discouraging, you eventually get over it. Life goes on and you try again, hopefully with more determination.

It provides a learning experience

So you got it wrong the first time. I bet you learned something in the process especially if you kept an open mind. Thomas Edison famously said about his attempts to create the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is the way successful people think. You fail. You learn. You start again.

It leads to growth

It takes strength to try again. You have to draw on all your resources, stretch yourself, and move outside your comfort zone. Any time you do this, you grow. Yes, your failures mark you in both good and bad ways. You may not be the same but you’ll be a newer, and maybe better, version of you.

It’s better than not knowing

If you don’t try something, you’ll never know the result. Then you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering if your idea would have worked and if you should have followed through on it. Choose the pain of risk rather than the pain of regret.

It can lead to success

Research suggests that those who enjoy the most success have also failed the most. In the face of adversity, you learn skills that you can’t possibly learn if you succeed the first time. In fact, learning how NOT to do something gives you a competitive edge moving forward.

No one gets through life without failing, usually many times over. In fact, if you haven’t failed, you likely haven’t been doing much. The lesson here is simple: You will fail, likely often, but remember that each failure has the potential to be a stepping stone to success.