Being Okay With Failure
I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but sometime last spring Sameer decided he wanted to become proficient in photography. Maybe it was because we were expecting our first child and he wanted to be able to capture our family moments, or maybe he just wanted to challenge himself to learn a new skill. Whatever the reason, his mind was set to develop his ability to take amazing photographs. He watched countless hours of informative videos, learning all about his new Nikon D5500, aperture, lenses, and F-stop. I want to tell you that I was super excited about his new passion, but in all honesty I was a little annoyed. It wasn’t necessarily the amount of time he spent pursuing his new goal, it was more the amount of time it took him to actually get the shot he was happy enough with to move on to something else.
Last Christmas, Sameer wanted to take pictures of Maya under the Christmas tree. His job was taking the pictures; mine was to keep our three month old happy. He took so many pictures and he wasn’t happy with any of them. Our Christmas tree was in an area of our home with little natural light and we didn’t even have ceiling lights in the room. Our first attempt was in the evening and his pictures were way too dark so we decided to try again the next day, but even in the middle of the day the room wasn’t light enough to get a really clear picture. He tried using the flash and hated the way it made her look. We pulled some lamps in and again the light was just off, or she was fussy, or the camera focused on the background. After a while I was done. My eight-year-old self showed up like I used to at family photo shoots: disgruntled and impatient. I called off the photo shoot in my frustration. One of those hundreds of pictures surely had to work. Sameer was frustrated too, because he didn’t get the shot and wanted to keep trying. We soon got over the little dispute but Sameer wasn’t done taking pictures. I have had to learn to let him take the time he needs, although I’m sure he still feels some pressure to speed it up. I can say that as he has practiced he has gotten better and is able to take less pictures in total to get the shot. But something I recently read has completely changed my outlook on Sameer’s new hobby.
A few weeks ago I invested in a devotional book created by the Cageless Birds which is a community of artisans based in North Carolina. One of their leaders, Melissa Helser is a gifted worship leader, songwriter, speaker, and apparently a photographer too. She wrote one of the articles in their volume on creativity about her love for photography. As I was reading, this quote jumped out of the page, “Unless you risk the one hundred average shots for the one extraordinary, you have learned nothing.” Immediately I thought of Sameer and his hundreds of “failed” shots. I also thought about my own desires and goals and how I have so often been disheartened by my failures and disappointments that I’ve given up. I have been unable to risk that feeling of being a let-down in order to accomplish what I set out to do. What I see now is that my mindset needs to shift. I need to learn how to be okay with my failures because they are actually vital to achieving my goals.
My version of the “one hundred average shots” have been songs and musical ideas. I love music and the way it communicates so much, but I hate how many times I have to write something crappy to get to something good. And you should know that my goal isn’t “good”; I want my songs to be exceptional and beautiful and moving. Unfortunately, most of them end up being just okay, which drives my recovering-perfectionist-self crazy. I know in my head that anything worth doing is going to be difficult, and I should just keep going and push through the discomfort of “wasting my time” writing so many unremarkable songs, but my heart has been crushed under the mass of my best, but not good enough, efforts. I can’t tell you how many times I have begun to pursue my music only to give up when failure and frustration inevitably come. It grieves me that this has been such a big issue in my life thus far. But after this shift in my perspective I see even this part of my story can be used to direct my path in a more focused way.
When Sameer didn’t get it just right when he was taking pictures of Maya, or when he took the camera out to the Frisbee field to get epic shots of his friends and every single one of them was blurry, he decided to devote his time in a specific way to learn how to shoot in those settings. He didn’t throw in the towel when he seemingly wasted so much time taking the shots; he used his experience to focus his efforts. I’m learning that if we let them, failures can help us hone our skills. If I’m unhappy with how a song sounds, I now ask myself, “where did this song fall short? Melody, lyrics, content?” I can then pay more attention to those details in order to write a better song next time. I know this seems simple, but it truly has helped me to stay inspired and keep trying. Maybe you have experienced failure over and over again in your own life. Have you decided to let it teach you? This revelation, to risk the one hundred, has showed me that persistence is key and failure isn’t really failure at all. My new goal is still to write with excellence; but also to let myself enjoy the music along the way.