The threat of failure

For reasons I can’t really figure out, I’ve had failure on my mind a lot lately.

For reasons I can’t really figure out, I’ve had failure on my mind a lot lately.

It’s not because I feel like a failure, I really don’t, but the thought of it is in there somewhere, ticking away like a little clock I can’t seem to find.

I suspect I’m not alone in this, either. Failure is something that haunts most people, regardless of whether or not you find yourself in the arts, but for the creative types out there, it’s always sitting right there with its friend, doubt, and is always willing to cause grief, whether you’re failing or not.

This is probably because so much about art — the process that’s used to create it, the hours and hours and hours it takes to create it, the skills you’ve worked on to be able to create it, everything, really — comes from a very personal place for a lot of people.

I don’t write a lot of material that would be considered autobiographical, but that doesn’t mean I’m not putting everything I have into what I’m creating. You’re also going to hear the word no a lot during your career.

The hardest thing most creative individuals have to do is go through years and years of people saying no to them and what’s even harder is realizing that hearing the word no isn’t failure, you just didn’t reach that person.

Not everything we create speaks to every person out there and that’s a hard thing to deal with for some people, but think about it, not everybody likes the same kind of music or even the same artists if they do like the same kind of music as you and you shouldn’t expect them to.

Most people never truly fail when it comes to art. You might not think you’re doing something that’s any good, especially if commercial success is your goal, but take a look back at what you’ve been doing.

If you’re in the visual arts, look at your first attempts at painting. Don’t go as far back as your finger painting days, but back to when you decided this was the thing for you.

Odds are, you’re going to be surprised when you look at it and realize how far you’ve come and you’ll walk away impressed at how much you’ve succeeded in getting better at what you do.

I know I do it all the time, especially when I look back at things I’ve drawn.

Failure is a state of mind more than it is anything else.

Personally, I think if you’re able to sit down and create something, from beginning to end, you’ve succeeded. Not counting the business end of things, that’s the hardest part. The commitment to sit down and then to see it through to the end means that you’ve found a way to silence the voice of failure long enough to succeed in creating something.

That’s harder than selling a piece of art any day of the week.

Douglas Paton is a Summerland writer and musician. If you know of a local arts and culture event, contact him at