In my full time job, I’m paid to come up with ideas for other people. I’m a Copywriter at an ad agency. There are parts of my day where I sit with my team and we figure how to solve a business problem with a creative execution.
During this process, failure is inevitable. Being creative, and striving for better work, means bad ideas will surface. If you don’t say them out loud, then all you’re doing is killing something before its started. This worry of looking stupid, or like your ideas aren’t any good, is a common problem for creatives.
The problem is, we think we’re cool. And that is painfully uncool, so we won’t ever admit that it’s one of our main motivators for not trying something out. For most people, feeling embarrassed comes easily, and saying something stupid is one of the quickest ways to a red face.
Thanks to drumming, I’ve learnt that failing, and failing hard, is really fucking fun.
My focus on failure this week comes from my fifth lesson. Dave taught me a beat – that kick ass one from The Seed 2.0 by The Roots*. Just as we normally do, he shows me, we play it together, and then I fuck it up. This is a fairly normal occurrence now, I’m a learner after all.
But this week, my messing up really gets to me. My failure wriggles inside my synapses and stops my brain learning it. After I leave the lesson the beat completely escapes my head. It just leaves. As I sit down at my drum kit at home, I can’t remember it at all.
I read the sheet music Dave has given me and it has stopped making sense. It’s like my past month of learning has just upped and walked away.
I listen to the song on the way into work. I drum it out on my wheel. I think I’m kind of getting it right, and then as I sit down that evening to play, everything leaves my head again.
After everything had gone so well for weeks, it feels like I’ve let myself down. I’ve said previously that part of the learning process is to accept failure and take it in your stride. That drumming is a great teacher of this.
In my head, I curse Past Ruth – because what the hell does she know? Present Ruth is sucking (and sucking hard) and it’s days until the next lesson.
Then it hits me; the thing that’s getting to me isn’t that I’m failing.
It’s that I’ll need to go over it again, with my teacher.
As I said at the start of this process, I’m emotionally and financially invested in my drum lessons. Me not getting it feels like a waste of money; like I’m not being efficient enough.
What the hell am I, a robot?
I get an hour each week to build on something completely new and I’m getting hung up on not getting something first time round.
Your failure is not inefficient
This feeling stems from a culture where failure is seen as a bad thing. Like the only option was winning – and if you haven’t ‘won’ whatever you’re doing, then you’re wasting time, or money, or resource, or all those things.
We need to change the way we look at failure.
Failure is great. Failure is how we create. Creativity is bred from failure. It’s your brain building something up, finding a loose brick, watching it fall, and then realise you were actually trying to build a pond, not a house.
Failure is Aerosmith’s eighth studio album, Rock in a Hard Place, that absolutely no one remembers, but has the songs Shame on You, My Fist your Face and Let the Music do the Talking on it. That album sold just 500,000 copies. Which, back in the day, was shit.
Let’s embrace failure and call it something else. Failure is humans at play. It’s us learning the drums at 28 and suggesting your ninth zombie idea in one afternoon. It’s typos after four years’ of copywriting. It’s early 2000’s fashion. Failure is good.
Next time you don’t pick up an iconic drumbeat first time, or you dare to suggest something that might not work, congratulate yourself. Failure is brave.
Before The Roots landed on this gem of a song, they will have written some dodgy version where it didn’t sound like this, take comfort in that – nothing comes out fully formed. Now let’s listen to that beat. And get it in our heads.
*Side note: this is one of those songs I play in the car and think I can sing to. 90% sure I can’t – but that’s ok!