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Dealing with Creative Failure

Learning from Your Mistakes

Photo by Jose Silva from Burst 

I hadn't really thought of it, maybe I just didn't want to, but I was really bad at my first official design job. I had almost no training aside from one actual design class and one marketing class. Having been taught on the job, I still sometimes fail a bit more than someone who went to university or who has been working for longer.

There are flashbacks to my first client logo using papyrus, and my first illustrated book using comic sans, and I feel shameful. I still question how my employer felt comfortable hiring me after my internship of three months. I was to be a web developer and designer for them, and I had never used HTML that I understood or even knew what CSS was. And, all my Adobe knowledge was haphazardly self-taught from just playing around, with introductory classes thrown in the middle. So, as you can guess, I failed a lot.

In any creative field, whether it's illustration, design, photography, or music, there is a lot of failure before success. For some, luckily a lot of failure takes place in school. For others, it's on the job. Creative fields being so personal, it can feel like a personal assault to be told you failed.

No matter how long it's been, there will still be failures that will hit you hard and take you down for the count. But, that doesn't discredit your successes, or even really mean you are bad at what you are doing.

1. Step back.

It can be hard, but one of the first things you can do is detach yourself emotionally from your work. It is just that, work. You can be proud of work, and enjoy it defining your lifestyle, but in the end it really is just work. That logo you made for a client, it might just not be their taste. In the extreme case, it means you lost a job. But, generally, it just means you need to try again. By stepping back from your work, and being open to their tastes and opinion, it lets it feel more like teamwork, and less like a stage light on your failures.

2. Assess your failures.

Sometimes failures are there to show you where you might need to learn a little more. Take the time to see what made that piece into a failure. Was it due to personal opinions? Or was it that you genuinely need to practice something. Use the emotions that might arise from failing to fuel passion for learning more about your skill set or another skill for your skill set.

3. Develop Your Brand

Whichever field it is, you will have a specific flavour to what you are creating. Failing might make you more aware of what your personal style is. Could you have failed because that really isn't the avenue you need to be going? What is it that you have been getting success with? Is that what you need to be doing more of?

3. Take a break.

With working a lot, it takes a lot of energy and focus. Without taking time for yourself, fully away from work, it is easy to feel overly emotionally involved with work, and overly attached to products. Taking time completely away from your work space, or thinking about your work is important. That might just be an hour, a day, or a full weekend. Especially if your main spot for working is in your home, maybe you need to turn off your computer fully, close all pencil cases, or put that guitar completely out of sight. Better yet, leave the work space completely and go to a different environment.

5. Perspective

Easier said than done, but honestly, just taking the time to acknowledge you failed and how you feel about it is important. It shouldn't be dumped on a client. Take a look at that failure, and take a look at your successes. One failure will not defeat you or make you unable to get work. Maybe even think back to a time you had a bigger failure. Perspective is important.


It is easy to really be hurt by failure, we are all human. You can't expect to never fail in anything. And, honestly, you can learn so much, and grow so much from failure. Let it be another building block, and not break down your whole wall.

How do you deal with your creative failures?

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