Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Robyn Peel On…Celebrating Failure

Robyn Peele ImagePhoto: Courtesy of Robyn Peel

This post is part of the Q&A series, “Artists & Changemakers On…,” where artists, creative entrepreneurs and social change agents share their thoughts on each month’s blog theme. Today I’m thrilled to have Robyn Peel share her thoughts on celebrating failure.

Robyn Peel is a coach, mentor and facilitator who wants everyone to live bold, meaningful and fulfilling lives. Like last week’s Q&A guests, I met Robyn while attending the Pioneer Nation conference earlier this year (seeing a pattern?). In truth, I owe Robyn a debt of gratitude for inspiring this month’s theme. It was while talking with her during one of the conference sessions that the idea of celebrating authentic failure – the genuine attempt at creation that completely bombs for one reason or another – began to crystallize. Robyn and I both agreed that, too often, we rush to judge people whose projects aren’t home runs the first time around instead of viewing failures as an opportunity to dissect the situation, figure out what went wrong and make adjustments for the next attempt.

Naturally, I had to invite Robyn to share her thoughts on celebrating failure for the blog this month. Here’s what she had to say.

What role does failure play in your creative work?

Over the past few years I have become much more willing to try things out with no expectation as to whether they will work or not. I use the word “play” when I am starting on something new, as it allows there to be more lightness about the journey. And it is almost impossible to fail at playing! I use this play as a time to explore and learn; to notice what works and what doesn’t and to learn from both. I believe we can always improve and grow in our lives. The things that work and the things that don’t will always teach us something.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned on failure?

Failure is a perception not a reality. What one person deems a failure another person deems a success. And the way we respond to what doesn’t work will shape our future. The people who are seen as successful have a different attitude to trying and failing. They are willing to throw mud at the wall and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t they will try something new and see if that sticks. They just keep trying and trying and then one day will be deemed an overnight success!

I believe failure leads to innovation and change. We are not going to get something new if we are afraid to try and risk failing. We need to be bold and try things to get the brilliant and life-changing actions this world needs.

Have you ever celebrated one of your failures? What happened and why was that failure a good thing?

Last year I planned a “walk and talk” event where a group of people would come together to discuss a topic (Redefining Success) and walk through nature at the same time. It seemed to sit so well with my mantra: “Connect with Yourself, Connect with Others, Connect with Nature.” Rather ironically, with the topic as it was, no one turned up!

So I just did the walk myself and thought about what success meant for me. What once would have shattered my confidence – having no one show up at an event – became an opportunity for me to get clearer in my head about what I wanted in life and what success meant for me (and it isn’t about the numbers in any sense of that word – income, blog hits, number of clients or number of people at events). I embraced and celebrated that failure so much that when I came home so happy my partner presumed I’d had a great turnout!

What do you think keeps people from talking openly about failure?

Too often in the public arena and in the media people who fail are picked apart and dragged through the coals. They are publicly ridiculed, and that is something we are so afraid of. We deem failure to be something that we must keep to ourselves at all costs.

As a society, we seem to celebrate successes so openly but keep failures hidden away. I think this keeps us from changing or finding solutions to so many problems we face. It’s time to talk about all the things we try, whether they work or not; someone else could take our lessons (or failures) and find an amazing solution.

What advice on failure would you give other artists & changemakers?

Let’s start by not actually calling it failure. You tried something and it didn’t work out as you had envisioned. You have learned, you haven’t failed. To me it is much more important to try than to succeed. By giving something a go, you are much more open to success than if you stand on the sidelines hoping and wondering “what if?” Be open and curious about the things in your life that didn’t go as planned. What can you learn from them? What can you do differently next time? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – learn and grow with every experience.

Thanks Robyn for sharing your story! Follow Robyn Peel as she works with 20-somethings to help them get clear on who they are, what they want and then to make the conscious choices to bring that dream into reality. You can connect with her on Twitter and Google Plus.

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