I was listening to a terrific interview with author Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday. She was talking about her long journey as a writer and the commitment to learning her craft that it took.
When she was fifteen years old she made a conscious decision that her life purpose was to be a writer. She finished her first novel ten years later, and looking at it realized it was terrible. It was a piece of crap. And she remembers saying to the universe “I promised you that I would be a writer, but I never promised you that I would be a good writer.”
But she wisely realized that it was a bad novel because, surprise, she had never written a novel before. And even though it was bad, even though she had failed, there was something in her that knew she just HAD to keep writing, even if she never got good, even if she would keep failing.
Think about anyone who has achieved greatness. They all experienced failure. Edison failed hundreds of times inventing the light bulb. Lincoln failed the first time he ran for office. Spielberg failed, twice, to get admitted into film school. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Young cartoonist Walt Disney was fired from his first newspaper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” High school teacher Stephen King got 30 rejections for his novel Carrie. He was so frustrated and disheartened that he threw one of his early manuscripts into the trash. His wife literally dug it out of the trash and convinced him to keep trying, because she knew that his soul needed to write.
There’s a common feel-good cliché that states “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” which I admit can help people brainstorm and get past mental blocks of fear. But I think a more challenging question is “What would you do if you knew you would fail?”
A soul-searching, brutally honest answer to that question determines what you truly need to be doing with your life. Why? A passion and a determination to keep going despite failure because something deep within you says you must keep going is the only thing that will sustain you through the failures you will inevitably encounter. Because a passion and determination like that is what, without fail, leads to greatness.