“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Or make you cry. And want to throw things. Or lock yourself in a bathroom. Failure is a form of truth that can have the same effect. When we fail, our shortcomings become apparent. They become apparent to us, to our family, and to our peers. To fail is to be vulnerable, which is no easy task. But when we allow ourselves to step out of the “safe zone,” we will find ourselves stretched to achieve what we never knew we could.
Brené Brown gives a compelling TEDtalk on the power of vulnerability. She asserts that shame is what drives our fear, but if we can overcome it and make ourselves vulnerable, we will improve our self-worth and confidence. In another speech, she makes an interesting point: “TED is like the failure conference,” she says. The people who get on the stage are not afraid to fail. And every single one of them has failed in their attempt to grow, develop, succeed, and transform the world. They are not stagnant people. And they work without, or in spite of, their fear.
I love what Danica Patrick says about pushing the limits in order to win a race: “You’re constantly on the brink of crashing because that’s the fastest.” You cannot win if you’re not willing to be wrecked in the process. If and when you do crash, you are faced with a choice. You may walk away or pick up again and learn from the mistake, the failure, the miscalculation. You can mourn or you can be motivated. As a designer, I choose force the failed ideas to funnel the new ones, the better ones. Critiques can be painful, but if I never allow anyone to see my work, the concept will never develop into the best version of itself.
Madeleine L’Engle’s argument is perhaps the most fitting discourse I’ve encountered on the subject of artist vulnerability.
“Vulnerability is something we instinctively reject because we are taught from kindergarten on that we must protect ourselves, control our behavior and our lives. But, in becoming man for us, Christ made himself totally vulnerable for us in Jesus of Nazareth, and it is not possible to be a Christian while refusing to be vulnerable. I am beginning to see that almost every definition I find of being an artist. And a Christian artist? We care about what the Children see. We are, ourselves, as little children, and therefore we are vulnerable. We might paraphrase Descartes to read,’I hurt, therefore I am.’ And, because of the great affirmation of the Incarnation, we may not give in to despair.”
As artists, we inherently attach a deeper meaning to our work. There is a story. A memory. A heartbreak. A hope. Woven throughout the pieces we make. And when we fail at sharing, we fail at more than just making a good video or a tight design. We fail the story. We fail our Creator. We fail ourselves.
In the Spanish language there is a phrase – vale la pena – that means “worth it” but is directly translated as “worth the shame.” The word shame adds a new level of depth to this phrase. Shame is what threatens to hold us back. It’s what we fear. It paralyzes us as workers, artists, creators, and servants. We don’t want others to see our hurts and our failures. But when we risk the shame, when we drive at speeds close to crashing, we tell a truthful story that has the power to ignite change.