What failure feels like

Start with a description. It’s not art related, but the lessons learned today apply to business very well. Today I failed publicly. Very publicly. I a school in front of about 50 young people. Ouch.

I was performing escapology. A new routine. Usually I use some stuff which I know really well, but in this case it was hard to make that stuff work in the context. Usually chains and a mailbag are used. So I did some digging around in my library and found some really nice rope ties. I tried and succeeded to combine two rope ties together. No problem

But today I decided that needed new ropes. I was surprised to find that the rope they had was not what I had before…it was thinner, and synthetic. I hoped it would be ok. It wasn’t.

Then the school I was working at first ran slightly late. And the school I was going to moved everything a good few minutes earlier which meant that I couldn’t rehearse with my assistant. There were a couple of other problems which meant I ran even later because of what was going on, which meant that as I was being tied I heard a teacher call ‘this is the last knot boys’. So I was caused to run late, and then I was not able to make sure all things were done properly. I also think because of these pressures I wasn’t aware that a key point was not adhered to, and the ropes behind my back became twisted. Thank goodness that I wasn’t using fire or water at this point.

I ended up needing to be cut out. I was exhausted. My adrenaline level was way up with the effort, heart worn out. It wasn’t fun at all.

How to respond to failure option 1

Criticise myself for having tried something so risky, possibly not attempted before. I had attempted it and rehearsed it a number of times and wasn’t caught out once. Dump the whole escapology thing. Give up, go away.

How to respond to failure option 2

Not call it a failure! Love the phrase I have come across recently.
“Unexpected outcome”

So this unexpected outcome. Learn from it, and don’t make the same mistakes again. Should I do it again? Definitely. Now I know the real difficulty and it’s not a gimmicked escape I can sell that next time. You see, you don’t give up. If you are going to get anywhere in life then you have GOT to take risks. And this was a big risk.

[when failure hurts] “This doesn’t mean you should give up; it means you’re human and you have a pulse.” (from “Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out” by Marc Ecko)

With risks come failures

Think about it. A baby will fall over and over again as they risk standing on those wobbly legs. But what do they do? Repeat until they get it, learning a little more each time. And we all know about that lightbulb ‘learnt 1000 ways of not making the light bulb’ thing.

As adults we seem to get used to being risk averse. But is it our being safe culture?

Why we don’t take risks that might end in failure

We don’t want to take risks because we might look stupid in front of our peers. Yes, I felt that this morning. More so because my son goes to the school.
We don’t want to learn that we are, indeed, human. That we can fail.
We don’t want other people to think that we can fail
Someone might criticise us for failing

What happens to failing and risk taking

Very quickly we learn to become non-risk takers. Even worse we encourage others to not take risks. Because why should they succeed when we fail. That wouldn’t be fair. We aren’t so much concerned for them as fearful that we will look even worse.
So we play it safe.

Dealing with the fail

Did it hurt someone else? Well apologise. Quickly. No excuses. Even if you know the reasons, these are things to learn from and not put at other peoples doors. For me, it was a combination of time allowance (out of my control); training someone correctly (in my control); having the right rope (In my control); rehearsing enough and fully considering the things that went could go wrong so that I had ways out or could limit the problems (In my control). Then go and try to provide compensation. I wasn’t paid, but I have already asked the school if I might go back and perhaps put on a full performance for them. This time if they say yes they I will rehearse everything many many times. It will be perfect.

Failing often…and getting used to it

Ok, so when I came out of the school this morning it was raw, and I felt a bit silly. Well who wouldn’t? I had to be cut out of a position where

Escapologist tied up with encouraging meme

Don’t give up when you fail. Even though it hurts


my head was strapped to my knees and I was bent double with my hands behind my back. But this was what is called a small fail. Total impact on anything else in the world apart from my bruised ego: zero. I tried something no one else has tried in the school. The kids realise that escapology is not a trick and can go wrong (booster for future escapologist!). it means that next time, if I get the chance, I will be seen as someone who conquered the problems and came back fighting.

If we can fail at more things more often, then perhaps we will get used to supporting other people when they fail, or try something new instead of criticising them. And then celebrate more often when they succeed as well.

Maybe we can also start to take greater strides. If we are used to failing then we won’t fear the failure again.

Doing it again…at risk of failing. Again

I intend to do this piece again. Oh yes, I will practice. I will get the right ropes in. I will train my people. I will put things right. And oh yes, I might just fail again. But if I do then I will learn from that one. I will probably fail publicly. That’s fine.

Life, the universe…and art…and failure

When you make art it is always a risk. Thankfully much art is produced when no one is watching. So you can fail a few times. That picture that doesn’t quite work. But when you are trying to make a business work then to grow it you have to keep doing the things that are uncomfortable. The things that take risk, and might fail.

I am in the art-business. I have to seek ways in which I can grow my distribution. I have to be willing to hear people say no enough times…and let it ride.

Do you know that the people who succeed the most are the people who fail the most, the people who hear the word ‘no’ the most? It makes perfect sense really. You have to get that no as many times as it takes to get that YES. You have to be willing to fail over and over. There are enough people in the world so that you can fail enough times and not worry about those failures. In fact, the people who said that you weren’t very good the first time may be amazed when they come across you again. Because there people see themselves. They realise that they can grow in the same way.

Fail more. Fail publicly. Increase your failure rate. See more success

So these are the golden rules to get really good at dealing in failure whether that is in art, business, or life in general.

Fail more, publicly, more frequently. Get used to what failure and recovery feels like. Don’t dwell on the fail but see what you can do to move forward. Fail publicly…some people will help you get back up again. Those who laugh aren’t worth the time of day. Those who don’t want to stick around to see you grow will just be all that more amazed when you succeed because of your failures and risk taking, not despite them. How can you overcome the problem? Realise that the people who fail most are also those who succeed ahead of everyone else. No one wants to fail…so learn to fail and you will be rare.

And as you do I am convinced that you will see more success.


Book the quote above came from

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