Failure

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison

Yes, yes, we've all heard this quote before and that failure is important.  We've had it explained to us by a myriad of sources, personal and otherwise, but we still fear it.

And it's not hard to figure out why. Especially as an artist, work is already scarce, so the average musician is not planning on spending time sounding bad for failure's sake; at the very least, a habit of performing "poorly" is not one you often want to exercise, and at most, your musical reputation is at stake, possibly compromising future offers for work or experience.

All this aside, that failure is bad at all and that it should be feared, is one of the biggest lies I have ever been indoctrinated with.



Now don't get me wrong, here. I strive to be a hirable employee and a solid musician, but I have played a good many gigs that ended up as what many would deem a failure. What happens while playing and after these gigs? You question every single instant that occurred to find the answer to the overarching question, "Why was that so awful?"

Great! This is why I try to embrace failure in a public medium.  When the gig is over, you will soon know more than you did before you performed. This is also why I'm a strong advocate for failure in controlled situations. 

When practicing, I still don't go out of my comfort zone enough, though I strongly advocate for doing so almost all of the time.  Why?  If you shoot for extremes instead of simply reaching the edge of discomfort, you'll find the discomfort you have isn't as bad as you thought and that it is mostly your subconscious protecting you from failing. (Evolutionarily speaking, this would be important, but as a musician, there really is never a good time for this, but I digress...)

In aiming for these extremes, you will fail, but probably not as much as you assume. It happens time and time again. "That won't work, but I'll try it anyway."  And then it works, or it sparks an idea that might work.



All of this because failure is not embraced but abhorred.  I urge you to go to your place of study and try to do something absurd and bizarre simply so you can fail.  Are you a musician?  Go and play that excerpt, but play the Largo as a Vivace.  Get out some Bach and change the key signature. The melody one bar ahead of the chord changes. Are you a cook?  Try and make a cake using vegetables. Burritos with spaghetti inside. An athlete? Train without using your hands. Whatever.  I really don't care as long as you go try something with the intent of failure.  It's a truly cathartic feeling and I feel has many benefits:

  • Discovery of something new
  • The feeling of throwing the rules away
  • Exercising your own creativity and life's improvisation
  • Your crazy idea may not be so crazy after all
  • Practicing failing, and thus overcoming your fear of failure

A scientist probably doesn't have as many successful experiments as unsuccessful. When one makes a hypothesis, they look for what doesn't work, not what does, because if they find something works, it doesn't narrow anything down, it just affirms what they already know, leaving them right where they started.

Let's just be scientists and go for the ridiculous.  I assume you'll find life way more interesting as a life of failure, but how else are you going to find out?