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Fail often/fail better

I love the words of Samuel Beckett, inspirational even as they came from a dark piece of his prose:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Today’s tech designers have their own version: Fail early and often.

To fail is to fall short of a goal or what you set out to do. That pretty much guarantees that anyone who has a significant goal or intention is going to fail often, unless one’s aspirations are low.

I know there are those who would say (apologies if this means you), “There are no real failures.” I get it. If we keep learning and growing, how could you call something a failure?

On the other hand, we could say failing regularly gives us an opportunity to keep learning and building on what we discover.

The issue isn’t failing. Failing can be the fact of a slightly missed goal or thwarted aspiration. The problem comes when we attach meaning and turn it into “I am a failure.”

When used without stigma, “I dared to fail again and again” can become proof that I am not a failure. But we really don’t need that proof, right?

A day in the life

Each day we step into the role of creator.

in The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”

Each day becomes an opportunity to listen for what is calling us and weave what we love into our lives. Every day is an opportunity to experiment with what it takes to maintain an intention throughout the day.

If I get to the end of a day and haven’t done what I really wanted, loved, or needed to do, I can reflect and say,

“Look at all that I did right, how I helped another, how I learned, and how I enjoyed myself.” Then I can add,

“But, I failed at x today.”

The critical piece is what comes next. I can ask,

  • What can I do differently tomorrow?
  • How can I eliminate any judgment that I’m a bad person because I “blew” part of my day?
  • Where can I claim new learning?

I know that this is easier said than done. We are not machines, and our inner chorus of self-critics is only too pleased to chant:

  • See, this is what you do (procrastinate/get distracted/waste time).
  • You are a failure.
  • If you haven’t gotten it right by your age, you never will (nasty!).
  • Your situation is, frankly, impossible.

Enter designer’s mind

I love design thinking and how it turns big, sticky, “wicked” problems into challenges. With design thinking we drop self-flagellation and embrace curiosity and openness.

As I designer of my day, I can:

  1. Clarify an intention for the day/week/month.
  2. Identify my constraints (with big, sticky problems come big, sticky constraints).
  3. Stay curious.
  4. Identify possibilities.
  5. Chose options (or prototype a plan).
  6. Test.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

Because it’s hard not to take things personally

I’m thinking of a friend of mine, one of the most talented and creative persons I know. She regularly sets aside time in her schedule to do creative work and then the predictably unexpected happens: Her nonagenerian mother needs support, her son has an accident, a friend comes in from out of town, or the dog takes a turn for the worst. These are real constraints that have to be honored, even if it means she won’t be able to do the creative work she so wants to do.

Because it’s so easy to turn failing into personal failure, a spiral of self-judgment often ensues.

She’s forgotten rule number one:

Fail better. Lift the self-judgments. Continue the experiments.

With rule number one firmly in mind, we can continue designing.

A day is a complex series of choices. Here are some questions to ask in designing yours:

  • What do I really love and want to do or create
  • What givens or constraints am I facing?
  • What is the Minimum Viable Step (MVS) I could take that would move me in the direction of my intention?
  • Does my space inspire me and encourage the work I want to do?
  • Do the people in my life support me in my intentions? What do I need to ask for?
  • Am I being realistic about my time?
  • How can I create rhythms and schedules to scaffold what I want to do?
  • How can I make things easier on myself (or more fun!)?
  • What are my strengths and how could I work with them in designing my days?
  • What routines could I establish to help me slide more easily into what I want or need to do?
  • To whom can I go/what can I ask for in order to receive more support, ideas, or help?
  • What would it take to cut a groove in my life to make it easier for me to do what I want?
  • What “shoulds” do I need to give up?
  • How can I dig myself out of the pits when life doesn’t go as planned?
  • How can I renew, refresh and reward myself along the way?

I hope a few of the above might serve you. I’m describing them more in my book.

Please experiment and revel in your courage to fail. And keep designing your days.

Whether or not you call yourself an artist or creative, designing your days to enhance what is most important to you is a creative act.

And, to paraphrase Annie Dillard, our days are the foundation for our lives.

One Response

  1. Sally,
    Thank you for this wonderful blog or FLOW of valuable words! For any person wishing to move forward in their life – these design choices are valuable!

    I will use some of this in my August 21 & 22 zoom class: SupraCargo – The Paranormal Requisites of the SuperPro.

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