The Gift of Failure
One of my best friends from college, a remarkable and talented artist, gave me a journal that she made for me the day before she left the Appalachian mountains for Japan. Inside the journal was a letter in her scrawling handwriting, recounting our adventures and leaving me sisterly advice (along with a doodle or two). Through the tears as I sat in my car reading it, the thing that struck me the most was her wish that I give myself the chance to exerience failure. To try something and not be broken by the fact that my dreams don’t just go awry, but that sometimes the pursuit of them results in spectacular failure.
They say that winning isn’t the only thing that counts - that its all about staying in the game. What they don’t say is that we’re making the rules up as we go, and most of the time we don’t have any idea how to tell if we’re winning or losing. All we can try to do is cultivate a mindset where we learn to accept that every success, loss, failure and time of stagnation counts. It has to.
This has been particularly hard for me to remember as I approach my one year mark. I’ve been in Chicago almost a year and I don’t know how much longer I can say that I’m new to the city. I don’t know how much longer I can say that I moved here to “do theatre” if I’m not actively involved in a dozen projects. I don’t know how much longer I can ask other young actors for advice before I transition from being green to just clueless. I don’t know how much longer I can say I’m an actor if I’m not acting or that I’m an artist if I’m not producing work.
I’ve met people at so many different stages in their Theatre careers this past year; college students, recent grads, ensemble members at prestigious companies, older actors that are no longer auditioning, moms who acted once-upon-a-time and warn me never to get married, successful business owners who left theatre for different [but satisfying] alternative careers.
I talk to these people and realize there is a difference between those who let a dream go because it changed and those who neglected their passions until it was no longer a fire they could feed. And that, I think, is one of the lessons in Failure that my friend was getting at: that failure isn’t just a sign of failing, but a consequence of wanting and trying desperately, lovingly, and with abandon. If my “Art-Card” gets revoked, it’s not because I lost the right to call myself an Artist, but because I stopped caring.
And I know that won’t ever happen.