“Failure is success in progress.”
~ Albert Einstein
I first heard this line many years ago yet found myself reflecting on it more deeply recently after listening to a podcast discussing the idea of aspiring to failure, and it gave me pause. “Aspiring to failure”? What on earth did that mean? Why would I, or anyone want to aspire to fail?
It’s easy to become focused on success. Our culture seems to strongly suggest that it’s what we should be craving at all times; that we should dress for success and fake it till we make it. And we’re led to believe that if we strongly establish a goal, a vision in our minds, that with hard work, persistence and a commitment and respect to our talent we’ll achieve it. Fair enough, that sounds reasonable.
We might also want to be seen as successful, to be a star, to crave the status of having people look at us and marvel at our abilities, to long for the applause and attention, or simply to be accepted as cool and fashionable amongst our peers, or increasingly, by those “following” us on social media. We might want to live up to the expectations we put on ourselves – often without ever questioning where those expectations originate – and the expectations we feel others have for us.
When it comes, such achievement can provide a strong, if fleeting feeling of comfort and security, as opposed to the discomfort and insecurity of ever-questioning our position, doubting what we’re doing, whether we’re good enough, trying enough, talented enough … are enough.
Yet, aspiring to failure suggests looking at success differently, reconceptualising what success is and what it might feel like. Aspiring to failure suggests that success is not a destination, nor end goal, something to be achieved; yet instead is ever a work in progress, a process of constant renewal, shifting and expansion of our vision via the understanding of a technique, a craft and who we are through it and within it.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
~ Albert Einstein
To succeed is to be prepared to fail many, many times, over and again in the hope, perhaps the ridiculous hope, a hope based on little more than a whispered inner voice, or founded in blind faith, that through attempts and failure we might discover something genuinely new. To take a basic class example: to not merely master a step, as copy of a previous rendition, as though there is some objectively perfect way that step must be executed; but instead to continuously explore that step and how our individual execution, in our unique time and circumstances changes it. How that step, or those steps connected together, make us feel and can make others feel as they see and experience them through us, as though we and they, are seeing them for the first time and not merely as a comparison and contrast to previous experiences of those steps.
Whether we’re a student, a teacher or guardian, we can all be lured at times into the trap of feeling we need to develop a near impenetrable mask of authority and status in order to shore up our position within the prevailing social hierarchy of our given environment. And yet, to be in the arts requires a commitment to the clown’s heart; to play, to allow ourselves to be foolish, to be prepared to try and fall flat and fall over, to slip on the proverbial banana peel and be laughed at, maybe even ridiculed. All the while retaining an inner strength and our inner vision, as people stare, point a finger and sometimes say, “you’re silly”. To take the stab to the ego that can come of falling short of our own expectations and the perceived expectations we believe others have of us, and continue on, certain our path of aspiring to failure is the best pursuit of discovering the new, and the truly interesting and engaging, and not merely a very good, perhaps excellent regurgitation of that which has come before.
The clown’s heart is a way of freeing us of the burden of clamouring for status and authority from which we derive comfort and security, and instead pushes us into discomfort and insecurity and in doing so, into creative authenticity, asking that we find our inner strength there so that we might explore the new and different and all that which lies at the fringe of the norm; at the edges of the known. That is how someone trained in the arts, in a craft, evolves to become an artist.
“Don’t fear failure – not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In greats attempts it is glorious even to fail.”
~ Bruce Lee
Article by Josef Brown