Failure Is Not A Name

Imagine you’re walking across a rope bridge that you’ve walked across a hundred times. Suddenly, the planks shift and fall. What you do next is incredibly important: Will you panic and fall? Will you freeze and perish? Or can you find a path forward?

How do you get moving again? You have to tell yourself a story about all the times you’ve successfully crossed the bridge

If you work long-arc projects, you probably know the frustration and pain of having a project fail to live up to expectations. After expend- ing so much time, energy, and focus on something you care about, it can be devastating when it just doesn’t click. What you do next is very important. The story you tell yourself in those moments may define the next few years of your life and work.

Psychologist Martin Seligman explained that there are three ways in which our internal beliefs or narratives become damaging: we make them personal (“I’ve failed, so I must be a failure.”), pervasive (“I failed in this instance, so I’ll probably fail in every instance.”), and permanent (“I failed once, so I’ll probably fail always.”)

Of course, each of these three narratives is a lie, but in the moment, they feel very true. The narrative fills the vacuum previously filled by our unmet expectations. It’s collateral damage we experience when walking through the refining fires in the depth of the valley of the cre- ative process.

Don’t answer to the name “Failure.” For better or worse, the story you choose to live out establishes your boundaries.

Failure is not a name to answer to or a badge of shame to wear.


is there a false narrative about failure that is preventing you from doing good work?

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