Sep 202012
Woman walking on a tightrope on the ground, illustration by Joanne Hus

“If you are not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks.”
—Debbie Millman

Last night, I went to an event that the Graphic Artists Guild New York Chapter held at Pratt, featuring a talk by Debbie Millman. Because it was entitled “Overcoming Failure,” I was expecting a talk about specific design projects that had failed but which paved the way for brilliant successes. Instead, Debbie gave us something even better: a very personal narrative about her career and life, and the things she’s learned along the way. She spoke with generosity and humor, and ended her talk with a list which she has graciously permitted me to share here:

Ten Things I Wish I Knew Sooner Rather Than Later

  1. If you are not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks.
  2. Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.
  3. Work very, very hard.
  4. Ask for opportunities.
  5. Finish what you start.
  6. Say yes to almost everything.
  7. Busy is a decision.
  8. Don’t censor your dreams before you actually dream.
  9. In order to strive for a remarkable life, you have to decide you want one.
  10. It’s only a failure if you accept defeat.

Instead of the well-known question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” perhaps we should ask ourselves, “What would you attempt to do if you weren’t afraid to fail?”

I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments.

  2 Responses to “overcoming failure”

  1. One of my favorite sayings is “If you don’t try, you can’t fail”. I teach art to young children and they love it when I celebrate mistakes – it’s a great way to learn. Also your re-framing of the question above to include fear is relevant; fear can be paralyzing. So, make mistakes, learn – you can’t fail. Marika

    • @Marika: Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I’d had teachers like you when I was a kid. Think how different our lives would be if our teachers (and parents) had celebrated our failures as opportunities to learn!

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