worth it

Failure, worth and outcomes – listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast is pretty amazing (and I’ve only listened to a couple of them so far). One episode I recently finished was her conversation with Brené Brown on “Big Strong Magic” (Season 1 Episode 12). It’s only 35 minutes long, and inspired me to really consider failure and outcomes in a new way.

They cover so many wonderful angles of being creative, being brave and all that it means – but my favourite part happens about 16 minutes in. It’s their discussion about the inspirational message “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” and how misguided that is as an inspirational message. Brené comments that she now asks herself the question “What’s worth doing even if I fail?”, because failing is often part of being a creative, and definitely part of learning and taking the chance to do that thing you truly want to do in the world.


It’s a lovely conversation about the overwhelming need to “create” and that it doesn’t have to be a success – sometimes you just need to put that thing out into the world anyway. Inspiration “owes you nothing, except the transcendence of the experience of working with it” is Liz Gilbert’s take on the conversation. She has a line in Big Magic (which you can read my review of here) “Failure has a function, it asks you if you really want to go on making things”, which is from Clive James and I think is so incredibly true.

Letting go of the outcome

When I did My Year of TED it was was the most freeing experience of my life, because I did not anticipate an outcome, so I wasn’t tied to one. Sure, I wanted to finish all the activities, but beyond that there was nothing except doing the work and seeing what I thought or how I felt about it after the fact.

This is a great mindset to embrace, and I do continue to try to apply it into my life – with varying levels of success. For example, when I published Do Share Inspire, I did so to make it a book and put it out into the world in a form that people might actually read (trawling back through a few hundred posts on a blog is tedious work). Did I have a vision and success measures? Sure. Did I want sales? Of course. Would I have loved it to become more popular? Completely. But I wasn’t wedded to an outcome, other than putting it out into the world and trying to promote it.

So failure then…

This is where I’m trying to align all of these things – think about it… if you have a plan to do something, and define ‘success’ for that plan, then surely you are wedded to an outcome? And surely if you don’t meet that outcome you have failed? Well, yes and no. It depends on what your definitions of success were and how you approach that outcome – well in my mind anyway.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this (over 40 years), and incorporating the wisdom of many amazing minds and TED speakers in the process – including the amazing Gilbert and Brown. If a factor for success is completing the task, then regardless of the other outcomes, completion means I have not failed. I might have some wonderful lessons, and experiences I didn’t plan for, but as long as I did the work then I still achieved.

Back to Do Share Inspire – turning this blog into a book and self-publishing that was the main outcome. Yes, I wanted to get on more podcasts, have more sales etc. But they were measures of success, they were not the ‘outcome’ of the process itself. The only outcome I was wedded to, the only one I had complete control over, was holding a printed copy of that book in my hands – and I did that.

Everything else mattered, and my inner critic has often told me I didn’t work hard enough to achieve the level of success I would have liked. But no one can take away the success of meeting that single outcome – even my inner critic cannot tell me I failed entirely. I learned valuable lessons from the things that didn’t work as well as I liked, and I know how to do things better in future, but that is only one part of it.

What’s this all about?

I so often feel I should edit some of these thought process posts, because there are a lot of posts here where I start with something I’ve been thinking about, but the thought is not yet clear. And I wonder whether it would be more valuable for you to have the finished thought, rather than my exploration of it. And then I think, “why start now?” 🙂

What I think this is about is becoming more accepting of the failures, and continuing to create and push through with my crazy ideas anyway. I spent a couple of days earlier this month seriously considering whether I should just go and get a job (this is a pretty common thought in my world). But I know I wouldn’t make a great ’employee’ any longer, I think I’ve lost the ability for long term diplomacy and passivity.

So instead, I need to keep trying things; keep pushing forward with my ideas and putting books, courses and other products out into the world. Hopefully something will strike a nerve with more people, or I’ll get better at the promotion and marketing and do that part of the work properly. Regardless, I need to make sure I keep my confidence to do the work by only being wedded to the outcome of doing the work.

What are you willing to fail doing? What is so worth it that the outcome is meaningless as long as you get it out into the world? Listen to Elizabeth and Brené chat about it, I’d love to know what you get from it.

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