Advice to Young Creatives Series: Admit Your Mistakes & Failures

Hi Friends,

Wow, so much has changed in a little over a month since I last wrote. Not sure about you, but the uncertainty and transition times are the hardest for me.

While we all navigate the in-between spaces of not quite back to ‘normal’ I hope you take time for yourselves when you need it. I hope you decline events you don’t want to attend and I hope you save time and energy to say yes to doing things you actually want to do.

There’s no reason to do things as you’ve always done them prior to this, we’ve all changed.

And on the subject of acceptance of change I want to write about one of the most important and empowering things you can do as a creative–admit your mistakes.

Maybe you’re hearing this and thinking you read the above wrong.

Admit my mistakes? Why would I ever give the world the upper hand of knowing I screwed up? Because it allows you to grow and it gives you control.

When I first started in arts administration I was doing a ton of travel booking and I remember one particular time where I’d booked an entire casts’ international travel for the wrong weekend. Shit. And I didn’t realize it until a few days after booking it, so it was going to cost a pretty big fee to change it. Shit Shit. I agonized over what to do. I felt sick. I went back and forth over how and when to tell my boss. Finally, I went to his office and explained what had happened. I even offered to pay the fees from my measly salary because I felt so terrible. He looked at me and said, “Well, it happens. We all make mistakes. Go fix it!” To be clear this is not a possibility with every boss/curator/company. I have also worked for folks where this kind of admission would have had me cursed at and fired, so you do need to be aware of the type of boss you’re dealing with. But over the years I have found that most people are reasonable and understand that we all make mistakes.

In our artistic practices admitting our mistakes and failures gives us autonomy over them. I’m not sure about you, but I feel like my shame dissipates when I begin to talk about my shortcomings and someone else says, “Oh my gosh me too.” By admitting to those close to us our faults we take away their power. We can learn how to overcome them and in turn help others.

One thing working for an improv and comedy theatre taught me is to fail better. To pretend that we’ll never fail is a fallacy and it will never help you grow. If you’re not failing, you’re not challenging yourself.

fail so you can rise

Over the years I’ve tried to get better at admitting my failures and mistakes. I still have days where I have a hard time acknowledging them, but we’ll always have room to grow right?

Below are a few tips I would offer if you want to begin the practice of admitting your mistakes & failures:

  • Know your audience. You don’t need to go telling your deepest most embarrassing failures to the person taking your food order. That’s not fair to them or those behind you in line! Talk through shortcomings with someone you trust. When you fuck up, go to a kind hearted friend and ask their advice. Tell them it’s hard for you to admit “X”, but you need help in navigating the next steps in fixing it or healing from it.
  • If you’re in the workplace with an indiscretion, go with a plan of how you are going to fix it. When I used to run an internship program for a commercial theatre the most important question I had for young people in their interview was “tell me a time you made a mistake and how you fixed it.” We’re all going to make mistakes, but we’re not all going to work to find elegant solutions to fix it. That’s what sets true professionals apart from the rest.
  • Embrace your shortcomings. No, I’m not talking about becoming complicit and never striving to get better. But the minute we admit something is a struggle it loses power. And if you’re talking to a mentor or peer about the struggle, they may have worked through something similar and may have advice or support to offer.

By taking the time to self reflect, we can only get better. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s something I still struggle with even after a decade of working on it. But it’s made me a better artist, friend, administrator, co-worker, partner and parent.

Here’s to failing, and to failing better.

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