Fail Better Talks is a monthly talk series celebrating all things imperfect, run by Hannah Kelly, Etty Flynn, Brie Gobel, Likando Kumoyo, and Nina Allmoslechner. Etty and Hannah are also both New Blood Academy 2019 alumni. Fail Better believes there's value to be found in disastrous design, and the value of having conversations around failure in order to see what can be learnt from them, so we thought there'd be no better people to call on to ask about their top 5 tips for remaning resilient during this unprecedented and uncertain time. Over to them.
The pandemic has put a lot of us in a place where we don’t have much agency over changes inflicted on our professional and personal lives. Because of these variables, people are having to deal with a lot of unforeseen obstacles that can lead to the feeling of failure, in a sense of not achieving goals met or things not going their way.
For graduates, you are entering into a pretty strange time. With coronavirus shutting down universities, most colleges have continued their classes via zoom. The end of term is looming and many students have had to submit their work online, which isn’t the most conducive tool to every strand of design. For final year students it’s even trickier, with many universities and colleges taking the decision to have their end of year shows in a digital context. Not to mention the even more daunting task of entering the working realm in this difficult economy.
These factors add to the fears that rack every graduating student: What will I do now? Where do I find contacts to get into the industry? The show was meant to be an opportunity to network, how do I do that now? How do I get my dream job? What even is that? Where do I find the money to move out of home?
Fail Better has had many speakers that have talked openly about their failures and there’s a few that may help you stay resilient during these strange times.
Hannah's top quarantip: Don’t let the fear take over
One of our speakers, Laura Gordon spoke candidly about the fear of failure.
These are three tips from her talk have really helped me.
Share alike, care alike. Everyone else is probably feeling the same as you about the current situation. Rather than pretending it’s all fine – be honest and open with each other about your fears.
Invite failure in. Insert failure into your projects over the summer. Block out time for it if need be. Reclaim failure from outcome anxiety and embed it within the creative process – make a ‘Play’ or ‘Experiments’ folder before you move into a ‘Design’ folder. It can help keep the pressure off and reduce the temptation to play it safe.
Go your own way. Getting a full-time job by September 1st is not the only way to succeed – find what works for you. Straying from what feels like 'the set pathway’ might feel like a failure but no journey is the same, and replicating someone else’s success may just disappoint.
Laura’s talk concluded with a tip to try to find a measure of success which ultimately satisfies you. Don’t let others define it for you. Cheers Laura, it has certainly helped me!
Nina’s top quarantip: take your time
When Ben Mottershead, a young independent branding designer, gave a talk at our first virtual Fail Better event last month, he was taking us through his very motivating and joyful journey of failure. With his charismatic appearance, Ben immediately had the power to connect with the audience on a different level. His talk was full of inspiring words and metaphors like “slow down. think. reflect” or “failure gets you closer to the right answer”. However, his one metaphor about penguins was most loved by our audience: even though penguins are birds who have wings, they are not able to fly. They use their wings under water, in order to swim. They needed to find their air—or rather water.
His talk just made me realise that we are all different human beings and sometimes we end up comparing ourselves with someone, who is just too different from us. We live in a society, where we constantly move, without taking a break, just because we want to achieve something that is literally not manageable. We shouldn’t be too harsh to ourselves and we need to accept that we all go with our own time. Failing is something that we have all experiences and we will probably always experience until our time is over. But that is not something that we need to fear, since “failing successfully”, like Ben said, can lead us and provide answers to questions that we have had—even big ones, like: am I really going the direction I want in life?
During quarantine, I was finding myself being very upset about literally everything and I thought I was failing just because I could not do what I had planned for a long time. However, those vulnerable times gave me actually something that I have not done for a while: time for myself. I finally had the time to reflect on my life without having a feeling inside my body that I am in a rush. The more I started to write things off my chest with pen and paper and reading short statements in books or journals about self-love and acceptance, the more I started to reflect on my life and to go with my own time.
Brie's top quarantip: Use this time to experiment
We had Tom Tapper, from Nice and Serious talk at our Free Range event. His talk really struck a chord with me and I think it’s an important message to pass on.
Basically, everything that we know and can see in the Universe, the earth we stand on, the sun that warms our back, the stars in the sky, is physical matter, and it only makes up 5% of the Universe. The rest is made up of dark energy and dark matter. This stuff is not observable, we think it exists because of how light is observed to bend around it which suggests it has a gravitational field. (I promise that that’s as far into physics that I’ll get)
Failure is like dark matter. It’s something that isn’t talked about broadly, yet it makes up 95% of all work. We never see failure. Anything that isn’t an award-winning success is hidden from the world. Yet, failure is the lifeblood of the creative process, and without it we don’t progress. To quote Seth Godin: “You can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.”
By never presenting failure we showcase an unreal reality. Much like how instagram can sometimes be. By people only posting their best, we never see their worst. So we never really know it exists or to what extent. We start to believe that we are the only ones going through failure or hard times. This leads to “the creative spiral of gloom.” (basically I suck) But the great news is that you aren’t alone. Everyone feels that way and every great/award-winning piece of work is based off of a pile of failures or imperfect pieces. So slow down, embrace failure as a sharpening of skills so that when the right project comes along you’ll knock it out of the park.
One of the positives I’ve seen come out of this covid-19 mayhem, is that I think everyone at the moment is being a bit more honest about what they’re going through. This honesty is great because it allows us to see our own “shortcomings” in a more forgiving and valuable light. Use this time—let’s face it we all have quite a bit these days—and feelings—too many of those too—to explore ideas and make loads of experiments: successes and failures. There’s very little downside, especially right now. Keep going. And don’t stop because the world needs creativity now more than ever.
Etty's top quarantip: keep a diary
When the Designer and Art Director, Emilie Chen, came and gave a Fail Better talk back in January last year, she took us through the very long and gruelling creative process, warts and all, behind one of her most prized pieces of work. Her presentation included slide after slide of every single proposal that had been rejected by her client, before finally hitting gold. The knock-backs seemed never-ending, and everyone in the audience giggled because, let's face it, we've all been there.
Her talk reminded me of when I was back at school - and my art teacher told me that Michelangelo would never fully erase any of his mistakes when he was drawing. Instead he made sure to keep them faintly visible. He felt that if he got rid of them completely - then he wouldn't be able to learn from them.
I recently went through an experience almost identical to Emilie's, and working from home in quarantine made it all that bit more frustrating. One thing that has helped me regain some sense of control, and is therefore my top tip for staying resilient, is to keep a journal. Keeping a diary helps vent the frustrations that come with these unprecedented circumstances and, if documenting your creative process helps you learn from any fuck-ups on your part, then they were no longer suffered in vain. Emilie's talk showed us that we should never forget the process. Your struggles are your progress - don't erase them!
Lika's top quarantip: Embrace, Assess Then Adapt
The pandemic has put a lot of us in a place where we don’t have much agency over changes inflicted on our professional and personal lives. Because of these variables, people are having to deal with a lot of unforeseen obstacles that can lead to the feeling of failure, in a sense of not achieving their goals or things not going their way. Whether it be students that can no longer have a platform to display their hard work at a degree show or people dealing with rejected applications when trying to enter the working world in this difficult economy.
One of our recent speakers, Jess Gosling, gave some great advice on embracing these situations and your feelings on them. What really resonated with me was that Jess was talking about taking time to acknowledge and reflect on failure, which I believe is a vital first step in dealing with it and being resilient.
I’ve found that a helpful perspective to take on change is to embrace, assess then adapt.
Take the time to accept and embrace the situation you’re in. Be honest with yourself about the reality of the situation. Give yourself a break and allow yourself the space to come to terms with it or reach out for support if need be.
Assess what the obstacles are in the way of reaching your goals. Put things into perspective. Figure out what isn’t in your control and let go, as tough as that may be. Figure out what’s actually in your control and focus on those things that you can change.
Then adapt. Do what you can under these circumstances. Set yourself new goals by thinking of a realistic end result and how can you work towards it. Take the elements you found in the assess phase and work with those to move forward.
Sometimes unexpected circumstances require us to be flexible and can be a catalyst for new perspectives that lead to creative solutions. So, remember, accept the situation, reflect on it and then move forward with what’s in your control.
Jess Gosling works within the UK Government in cultural diplomacy matters, by night she co-leads the Growth & Grace Collective. She is a serial multi-hyphenate seeking to bridge the gap between culture, diplomacy and innovation, curating a bi-monthly LinkedIn segment of the same name.
The world is a very odd place right now, and we can’t tell you that these suggestions will help you with everything that you’re going through. But, we do hope that these “tips” help you put things into perspective and see “failure” (shortcomings, imperfections, gags, etc) in a new light. Not to see them as an impasse but as the path towards something better in the future. We hope you found them helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us, we’d love to offer help where we can. We got this. You got this.
For New Blood Digital Festival, Fail Better Talks are hosting 'No Grit No Glory', an interactive workshop that will blow open the fear of failure with top tips designed to help you feel more comfortable with taking risks. Register for the session here.
For further inspiration, check out our Inspiration for emerging creatives page to help support your creative career journey.