Fear/Failure

I’m finding spiritual and professional guidance in unexpected places these days.

On Saturday, I was reading the latest issue of Fast Company magazine (one of my favorites, despite my status asUnknown  rather un-tech-savvy — great writing about what makes people tick bridges a whole lot of gaps for me). It includes a feature on Ed Catmull, President of Animation for both Pixar and Disney,  who has a new book out about building Pixar called Creativity, Inc.  What caught my eye was a sidebar with his unique take on failure. Catmull credits Pixar’s creative success in large part to the way they have “uncoupled fear from failure.”  In other words, by creating a system to deal with failure – to expect and learn from it as a recognized part of the creative process – his people no longer live in terror of going down the wrong path and screwing up a project.

He acknowledges that he’s not the first person to see that failure can be an opportunity for growth. But his perspective takes it one step further:

“Most people interpret this assertion as ‘Mistakes are a necessary evil.’ Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new…. [We] deal with failure by addressing it head on, searching for mechanisms to turn pain into progress…. The cost of failure is an investment in the future.”

This inspires me. It sheds new light on the pages and pages (and pages…) piled up all over my hard drive, all the thoughtfully-conceived writing projects that thus far have not had legs to stand on their own. And at a “let’s get back to basics” level, I needed to be reminded that major projects (a book, a movie, a friendship, a career) take years to build, not days, and those days are some up/some down.

Pregnancy is probably the most-used metaphor for book writing. It’s an awkward one for me, obviously, but sometimes it’s apt. Cahull’s book reminds me that just because a woman has had a couple of children already, it doesn’t mean her next baby will be born in five months instead of nine. There’s no high-speed lane for frequent travelers. It takes a long time every time, and each “project,” so to speak, evolves differently, even as you track it around the same milestones.  So it is with books.

Of course, we don’t get the guarantee that books will be finished and appear out in the world at around nine months. (How great would that be?) But I’m grateful for the reminder that the road is long.

This article reminded me that there are ALWAYS potholes and felled trees, and tempting forks in the road that will require me to backtrack over miles of well-loved paragraphs,pretending I was never there at all so I can set off again on the other path. Not just in writing, but in life. But there’s no need to fear. We’re all negotiating this complex terrain. I love Cahull’s reminder that these roadblocks and detours don’t make me (or you) silly to have tried, or lazy, or inept at my job. They just mean I showed up for work that day.