Failing Forward: A Celebration of Life’s Imperfections and Intentional Failure

Spatial Concept “Waiting” | Lucio Fontana | 1960

The universal experience and constant, sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious feeling that we all share is the fear of failure. Despite our understanding that failure is frequently the only way to achieve success (whatever that means for each of us individually), we are still quite reluctant to go through failure to get there.

Once, I was an extra on a movie set and tasked with bringing a jelly cake from the kitchen, placing it on the table, and having dinner with the ‘rest of the family.’ If I remember correctly, it took me about 8 to 10 takes to do it all properly, mainly because the jelly cake wasn’t moving the way it was supposed to. The director kept commenting, ‘be more gentle with it,’ ‘put a little more effort,’ ‘no, no, don’t drop it’. Any mass-market product—the polished version of which we use today—is the result of revisions, far from its initial conception. We would not have the electric bulb if Thomas Edison hadn’t famously failed 10,000 times, for that matter.

Many beloved things have emerged from the seeds of failure, like the serendipitous invention of the now-iconic chocolate chip cookies when chocolate chips didn’t melt as intended or the securely-delivering, also nerve-soothing bubble wraps initially designed as textured wallpapers.

Since restarting painting, the most comfortable I feel is failing on a canvas. But then again, what does it mean? How can I fail on a canvas? I asked someone, and I was proposed to rip the canvas apart. The problem is, someone has already done it, and that someone is the artist Lucio Fontana, whose famously ripped spatial conceptual art pieces now reside in the Tate Modern in London. He didn’t cut open the canvases accidentally; he did it on purpose aiming to penetrate the flat surfaces of paintings that have been established for centuries, allowing the viewer to go beyond the canvas into the “free space”. 

Recently, I have been falling more and more in love with the idea of ‘failing intentionally.’ Instead of putting the effort into merely overcoming the fear, I actively seek failure. I find the idea of having the permission and the encouragement to fail utterly liberating. In fact, what if we commit to failing at something every day? What would we do? How much more would we do? How much difference would it make in our lives, for our communities, or for the entire world?

History is filled with examples where failure paved the way for success because FAILURE IS THE WAY. I hope you can take this as an encouragement to allow yourself to fail more often than you do now, and if you do fail, I hope you fail big 😉