When I was a life-coach a common question I used to ask was — “What would you do if it was guaranteed that you couldn’t fail?”
This is a freeing question which allows people to brainstorm possibilities without having to commit themselves to potentially difficult consequences. It teases out of them what they really want to do with their life.
Many people refrain from working towards their deepest held dreams and goals because they are afraid of failure. We tend to feel shame if we fall flat on our face in front of an audience, particularly if that audience contains people close to us who are critical of our endeavours.
Some people won’t even admit that they have a dream, something their soul cries out for them to do. In not admitting that it exists, then they are not putting themselves in a position where they might have to do it. And therefore they are not risking failure.
Let’s change the question
In her creativity book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert asks this question differently. She says:
What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?
When I read this, it stopped me in my tracks. What a powerful statement! What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?
I liked the way she phrased this question. If we accept that there is a good chance of failure, then that is also freeing. We are accepting that there is no guarantee of success but we still want to go ahead.
Following the question she goes on to say:
“What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant? What do you love even more than you love your own ego? How fierce is your trust in that love?”
Isn’t that why we create? Why we make things? Because we love doing it and feel that we just have to or else we would go mad. Isn’t a big part of our creativity about the joy of making something, just because?
What is success and failure?
This also begs the question of what is success and what is failure? Very often we apply monetary values to these parameters. If we don’t make money from our art then it’s a failure.
Sometimes it is people around us who apply this pressure. Once, at a dinner party with my friend who is an artist, another of our friends asked, “But if you’re not making money from it, why do you do it?”
The person asking the question had no concept of doing because you are inexplicably driven to so. Not doing it is not an option!
Sometimes we might experiment in an artistic project or piece of writing. That experiment may pan out and meet our expectations or it might not. Even if it fails, we can still learn something from the experience. Failure doesn’t have to be bad.
By asking, what would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail, we have free rein to do anything. We can follow our soul’s desire. We can experiment on a hunch of an idea. We can try out an unusual technique.
As Elizabeth Gilbert also says:
“Anyhow, what else are you going to do with your time here on earth — not make stuff? Not do interesting stuff? Not follow your love and your curiosity?”
Get The Gentle Creative Manifesto — 28 tips to help you slay your creative demons, make time to create and enjoy your creative journey.