Famous Creators Discuss the Fear of Failure

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From Paulo Coelho, Stefan Sagmeister, and other artists, advice and wisdom for designers—or really just about anyone

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While failure may be an integral prerequisite for true innovation, the fact remains that most of us harbor a deathly fear of it—the same psychological mechanisms that drive our severe aversion to being wrong, only amplified. That fear is the theme of this year's student work exhibition at Stockholm's Berghs School of Communication, and, to launch it, the school asked some of today's most beloved creators—artists, designers, writers—to share their experiences and thoughts on the subject. While intended as advice for design students, these simple yet important insights are relevant to just about anyone with a beating heart and a head full of ideas—a much-needed reminder of what we all rationally know but have such a hard time internalizing emotionally.

Paulo Coelho - on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

"When you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don't see it, they realize that it is there, that you did this with all your body and soul." Paulo Coelho

Stefan Sagmeister - on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

"It is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff—as much stuff as possible—with as little fear as possible. It's much, much better to wind up with a lot of crap having tried it than to overthink in the beginning and not do it." Stefan Sagmeister

Rei Inamoto - on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

"What it comes down to is accepting the fact that many ideas and many solutions that we provide to our clients may always, or sometimes, fail. The trick, I think, is to A) accept it and B) have the courage to accept it and move forward with what you believe in." Rei Inamoto

But my favorite has to be Milton Glaser:

Milton Glaser - on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

"A characteristic of artistic education is for people to tell you that you're a genius. [...] So everybody gets this idea, if you go to art school, that you're really a genius. Sadly, it isn't true. Genius occurs very rarely. So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you're not a genius, that you're not as good as you thought you were. [...] There's only one solution: You must embrace failure. You must admit what is. You must find out what you're capable of doing, and what you're not capable of doing. That is the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure because otherwise you simply would never subject yourself to the possibility that you're not as good as you want to be, hope to be, or as others think you are." Milton Glaser

Explore all the videos on the exhibition site and feel free to share your own recipe for dealing with failure in the comments below.


This post also appears on Brain Pickings.
Image: RIAA Records

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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