Encouraging and blogging about creativity brings a certain amount of self-imposed pressure and sometimes my visions are bigger than my abilities.
Like, the painted-shut drawers of my Pinterest-inspired yard sale dresser re-do, or the many afternoons of crafting with my kids that have ended with ruined clothes, glue in the carpet, and a frustrated mommy.
More times than I like to admit, a project I planned to blog about has flopped and been thrown to the side with the other boxes of half-started crafts my husband patiently asks when I’ll clear out of the basement.
These creative “failures” mock, as I’m so passionate about encouraging moms and teachers to tap into their creative side by trying a new hobby or crafting with their kids, yet my own creative attempt is crumpled under a stack of kid-scribbles–waiting to be salvaged or tossed!
Dealing with my own creative failure is annoying, but even more heartbreaking is watching a kid’s creative confidence crumble with the weight of discouragement or disappointment. Sometimes—maybe even most of the time—our untrained hands just don’t connect with our minds in the way we envision and that can be so upsetting!
Embracing Creative Failure
Creativity—or the ability to think and act innovatively—is an essential life skill and so I’ve been pondering inevitable creative failure—and especially how to teach our kids to embrace creative failure and move through it.
Here are three ways that have become apparent to me:
1. Set the Example
How do you handle failure? Kids do what we do, and so if we want them to embrace failure, we should take a good look at the example we’re setting.
When speaking of setting an example for kids, author Elizabeth Gilbert suggested in her podcast, “If you model martyrdom to them, they will grow up to be martyrs. If you model creativity to them, they will grow up to be creators. . . . It is a public service for you to honor your creativity.”
And I’ll take it a step further to add, it’s a public service to let others—especially your kids know about your failures, and how you press through. Stories are one of the easiest ways to teach a lesson or illustrate a point, even when they don’t have a happy ending. So share your own experiences with them, and be that example for moving through hard things.
2. Look to Those Who Have Overcome
Not confident in your own storytelling, or you just can’t think of a story to fit the situation? Look to history.
My 10-year old, Ryan, has come to love biographies and we especially like the Who Was series as an early non-fiction introduction to influential men and women throughout ancient and modern history who’ve illustrated examples of failure and resilience.
Sharing and discussing stories of groundbreakers such as Thomas Edison’s 2000 attempts to create the light bulb and Henry Ford‘s persistence to perfect the revolutionary Model T illustrate classic examples of failure and determination.
But it’s also fun to learn about the obstacles and triumphs of pop culture heroes the kids admire. Ryan’s motivated and inspired as he explains a common trend he noticed when reading about George Lucas, J.K. Rowling, Jeff Kinney and Dr. Seuss: they all experienced repeated rejection before publishing their now well-known and loved works. (Though, I think if he were to explore it a little further, he’d probably notice a similar trend among everyone he studies!)
Learning about the creative failure of others helps teach the importance of pressing through hard things and keeping your creative passion lit. Just because something fails doesn’t mean it won’t work out. It might just mean you need to try a different path.
3. Innovate and Adapt but Don’t Quit.
When I was about 10 I remember being frustrated about a book I’d been assigned to read. I was a strong reader, but this book was several levels above my vocabulary’s comprehension and I kept asking my mom what the words meant.
After explaining a few of the definitions, my mom—who was busy with her own project—said, “Pam. I’m not going to tell you the answers anymore. How can you solve your own problem?”
Well, I didn’t like that very much. In fact, I thought she was the meanest mom ever because she wouldn’t let me quit reading, and she wouldn’t tell me the answers. But eventually I realized I could face the consequence of an incomplete assignment, or stop pouting and get out a dictionary. I chose the dictionary.
The story doesn’t end with the book becoming my favorite (honestly, I have no idea what book it was or even if I comprehended what I read!). But I can look back and appreciate that my mom trusted me to come up with my own solution rather than bailing me out.
It may not be easy and kids probably won’t like it, but we can help instill long-term confidence when we teach them to use their creativity to innovate and adapt rather than quitting when something is hard and uncomfortable.
Exercising Creativity is a Risk
Exercising creativity is a risk and we may fail. But taking the risk—and even failing—is how we grow, gain confidence, and ultimately learn to take responsibility for our own success.
If we protect our kids from too many falls, they won’t learn essential problem-solving skills for academic, social, or professional development. And so I think it’s okay to let kids experience creative failure as long as we also intentionally teach them how to bounce back from the failure.
Failing at a task doesn’t mean you’re failing as a person.