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  • Writer's pictureMarkanthony Little

From Setbacks to Success: Harnessing Failure for Creative Growth

Updated: Jun 13

The creative industries are fun and glamorous, yet this fast-paced, highly competitive world often leads us towards a crippling fear of failure. We're surrounded by people who seem better than us, crafting superior work and succeeding spectacularly on social media. Despite our hard work, our own efforts often end in failure. So, how do we avoid failing so often?

man with a cape , on  plaform. From Setback to success

Our response may surprise you. In fact, it's simply: "Don't." Talk to anyone with any kind of seniority in the industry, and they'll agree.


Reframing Failure

From a young age, we're taught that failure is something to be avoided at all costs—a sign of weakness, ineptitude, or lack of talent. But what if we've had it all wrong? What if failure is not the enemy of creativity but a crucial ingredient for innovation and growth?

The reality is that failure is an inevitable part of any creative journey. Every artist, designer, photographer, animator, or filmmaker has experienced setbacks, rejections, and projects that didn't quite work out as planned. The difference between those who thrive and those who stagnate lies not in whether they fail but in how they approach and embrace failure.

As writer and filmmaker Daniel Johnson puts it, "I just accept failure as part of the process. It's a byproduct of creativity. Successes and failures are very related." Similarly, designer and illustrator Kevin Tiernan says, "I try to reframe the situation as best I can and acknowledge how I'm feeling. 'It didn't work out this time, and I'm pretty bummed, but that's okay.' That perspective validates my emotions and helps me to navigate setbacks without getting stuck or personalising everything."

In short, the first step in embracing failure is to reframe our perspective on what it means to fail. Instead of seeing it as a final judgment on our abilities, we should view failure as a learning opportunity—a chance to gain valuable insights, refine our skills, and course-correct for future endeavors. Failure is not the opposite of success; it's a necessary step on the path to success. Every failure is a chance to gather data, analyze what went wrong, and make adjustments to improve the next attempt.


Embrace a Growth Mindset

Closely tied to reframing failure is the concept of a growth mindset—the belief that our abilities and intelligence are not fixed but can be developed through effort, learning, and perseverance. Those with a fixed mindset see failure as a reflection of their inherent limitations, while those with a growth mindset see it as a temporary setback and an opportunity to grow.

As product designer Bimal Tailor notes, "Failure is part of the process of learning. It's more of a bump than the end of the line."

Creative professionals who adopt a growth mindset are more likely to take risks, experiment with new ideas, and bounce back from setbacks. They understand that failure is not a personal indictment but a natural part of the creative process—a necessary step toward mastery.

So, how can creatives effectively embrace failure and turn setbacks into opportunities for growth? Here are some valuable strategies and insights from industry professionals.


1. Normalize Failure and Create a Safe Space for Experimentation

Creative lead Amber Carnegie emphasizes the importance of fostering an environment where failure is embraced and celebrated as a learning tool. "We host weekly inspiration hours that include 'how to fail' sessions," she explains. "These sessions are incredibly beneficial."


2. Document and Reflect on Your Failures

When something doesn't work out, your first reaction might be to discard it. However, this would be a missed opportunity, as every failure provides a valuable lesson you can revisit throughout your career. Conceptual illustrator Ollie Hirst suggests "keeping all the rejected or incomplete ideas in a folder on your desktop—I call mine the 'garage'. Instead of dramatically tearing them up or throwing them away, save them for another day."


3. Embrace a Spirit of Iteration and Adaptation

An obsession with failure often results from believing that every creative professional is, or should be, perfect. The antidote to that is an understanding that no one is. We're all flawed individuals who grow by making constant mistakes and learning. By viewing failures as opportunities for change rather than personal shortcomings, creatives can stay resilient and flexible.


4. Take Calculated Risks

TTaking calculated risks involves carefully weighing potential benefits and drawbacks before making decisions. This strategic approach enables you to explore new opportunities with a clear understanding of possible outcomes. By evaluating risks and planning accordingly, you can innovate and grow while minimizing potential negative impacts. Calculated risks are crucial for progress and often yield significant rewards, fostering resilience and adaptability in both personal and professional endeavors. Eric Kim, a renowned photographer and visual artist, underscores the importance of taking calculated risks in the creative process. He advises artists to discard past negative memories and start each day anew, viewing every moment as a chance to innovate. Kim encourages boldness, emphasizing that the potential for growth and success is boundless when one embraces calculated risks​ (Psychology Today)​​ (Eric Kim Photography)​.


5. Allow for Emotional Processing and Self-Care

None of this, of course, should blind us to the fact that failure hurts. And so it's perfectly natural to want to hide away and lick your wounds for a bit. Failure can be emotionally draining, and it's important to have healthy coping mechanisms and allow yourself time to process disappointments before moving forward. "I have a glass of wine and play some Mariah Carey!" says journalist Nicholas Fearn, while underwear designer Kate Sloan reveals, "I go to bed and watch 90s sitcoms."

While acknowledging the emotional toll of failure, it's crucial to reflect, extract lessons, and then move forward with renewed determination.



Conclusion

To sum up, failure is not the enemy of creativity; it's an integral part of the journey towards mastery. By reframing our perspective, embracing a growth mindset, and actively learning from setbacks, we can turn failures into stepping stones that propel us forward.

So, the next time you encounter a setback or a project that doesn't quite go as planned, don't despair. Embrace the failure, analyze what went wrong, and use those insights to inform your next iteration. The creative process is rarely a straight line; it's a winding road paved with failures and triumphs alike. By learning to navigate those setbacks with resilience, curiosity, and a willingness to grow, you'll not only become a better creative professional—you'll unlock new depths of innovation and artistic expression.


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