“I feel like a failure.” Those were the small shocking words I couldn’t believe exited my mouth in a phone conversation with a friend. I had just punctuated a candid laundry list of my failed career investments. I’ve experienced some artistic success….. but I’ve also made TV pilots and films people will never see, I’ve written screenplays and books the public will never read, I’ve never won a Pulitzer prize, an Academy award, an Emmy or a Grammy.
Am I an artistic failure?
The thought nearly debilitated me. I wondered if Picasso ever felt similar. Maybe he crossed his Spanish fingers and hoped another artist, a better one, lived inside him as he stepped away from his comfortable Blue Period. Or like Maurice Ravel, a French Composer with a faltering mind, praying a final tune could still be summoned from the deep. It appears I am also in transition these days.
My problem is rooted in the tyranny of perfection: I place extremely high hopes for each of these experimental excursions, but none of them have met my expectations. I WANT EVERY PROJECT TO BE 100%SUCCESSFUL. I’m dead serious. Each time I pull out my paintbrush, create a film or begin a new book, I expect absolute perfection. I admit, my desire to exist as a paragon creates a stressful life for me and my family. But if I want to advance as an artist, I must learn how to gracefully (and publicly) accept failure. Through this reflection on perfection, I found freedom in an unusual battle cry for my artistic life going forward.
I want to go to Mars.
As I take the helm of my rocket ship, I know, without a doubt, failure will surely find me. And when this happens I will dust myself off and plan another mission. I will press forward into the darkness of space as an artist refusing to let failure win – refusing to quit my metaphorical Missions to Mars. If I don’t, I know this creeping frustration will return to ruin my life as I whither away on Planet Wahl.
If I am unable to accept artistic failure, I will never reach artistic success. Imagine how frightened Picasso felt when he introduced Cubism, or when Maurice Ravel skipped out on his final, and most successful, composition, ‘Boléro’ at the Paris Opera. Choosing to face your fear is what being an artist is all about. I can no longer live my life while carefully avoiding potential failure. I want to turn and face fear and failure. Not for the press. Not for Twitter or Facebook. Not for the members of Academy – But for ME.