• Sometimes Failure *is* An Option


    My friend Veronica and I went to a painting class in Houston this week. It was a small class, only eight women and the instructor.

    The women across from us opened a bottle of Chardonnay. I eyed the bottle and sighed, thinking July 13th seemed awfully far away (no, I did not partake although I may have sniffed their glasses when they weren’t looking).

    Since the class was so small the instructor was able to give each person more individual attention. While making her rounds she looked over my shoulder.

    She asked, “Are you an accountant?”

    I froze, red paint loaded brush poised in the air. “Um, no. But I was a math major.”

    “Uh huh,” she said. “I can tell by your brush strokes. Relax. Not everything is an Excel spreadsheet.”

    To my right Veronica snorted laughter. “Dude. Busted.”

    They were right, of course. I have a deep and abiding love for straight lines and Excel spreadsheets. I was trying so hard to follow instructions that I forgot art doesn’t have to be perfect.

    My painting. The instructor's comment, "You're a little twisted, aren't you?"

    My painting. The instructor’s comment, “You’re a little twisted, aren’t you?” Again, busted.

    If you’re trying something new, something outside your comfort zone (i.e., painting when you’re more like an accountant) here’s a reminder: We’re all stiff and clueless when we try something new. We all make mistakes.

    So your branches look drunk and your trunk is fat. Who cares? It’s your painting. Own it.

    Drop the negative self-talk. I heard all kinds of it in the class. “I suck,” and “I hate this branch,” and “I did this wrong.”

    Guys, it’s not a test. It’s a painting class. Have fun. Be willing to fuck it up.

    We’ve been taught to be afraid of failure. This is problematic because failure is a damn good teacher. We’re so focused on never failing that we forget no one can live that way.

    And another thing about failure: The worst has happened.

    You took one painting class and discovered, holy shit, you’re not an undiscovered prodigy.

    Wait… You’re still here, right? Failure didn’t kill you?

    Well good!

    Now you have a choice: How important is it to you to become a better painter?

    If the answer is ‘a lot’ then you better get to work. Take more classes. Learn more about the craft. Practice, practice, practice.

    If the answer is ‘meh, I’m okay’ then chill. Have fun with it. Just because you’re not great at something doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.

    Not a one of us in that class was a Picasso. We all knew that walking in. But even knowing that it’s easy to get caught up in what you aren’t good at instead of focusing on the point of the class: having fun.

    And really, what good would it be if you walked into a painting class and reproduced a Rembrandt right out the gate? What appreciation would you have for the hard work and lifelong dedication of the great artists who propped up their easels centuries before you even thought about picking up a brush?

    Try new things. Go do something badly just to say you’ve done it. Chances are you’ll probably have a pretty good time.

    Don’t be afraid to try something you know you’ll fail at. Learn from the experience. Even if it’s only to laugh at yourself.

    And if you still can’t embrace failure as a learning experience, put on your wine goggles.

    They’re guaranteed to make your painting look spectacular.



    I love comments! Every time you leave a comment your failures get throat punched into submission. Don’t want to leave a comment? Send me an email at gettingthewordswrong(at)gmail(dot)com.

9 Responsesso far.

  1. Leslee says:

    “Your a little twisted aren’t you” LMAO!!!
    I’d love to have her analyze “my tree”

  2. Tina says:

    LOVE THIS POST! What a great way to look at life. Art classes always taught me that failure is sometimes a very good thing. And to learn: how important is making this perfect really? Does this say something about myself? My style? if I get it a little off? Also that if the answer was I wanted to be more disciplined then it meant I’d commit to more practice. People who have to be the best at anything right out of the gate rarely ever develop a skill.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    Failure is not really an option when it’s exams. I failed an exam (twice) and have now lost all confidence in ever being able to move on from the failure and pass. Having said that, I do agree that sometimes we need to move out with our comfort zone and do things. We should also be much less self-critical, sometimes it just doesn’t matter.

    • Meghan says:


      I’m so sorry to hear about your exams. Believe me, I know all about failing exams.

      It makes me think of when I was in elementary and high school and I was always told I was bad at math (apparently because I own a vagina). I failed pre-algebra three times and squeaked through the math requirements to finish high school. When I got to college I was scared to death of math. The problem was I had to get through College Algebra to graduate with any sort of degree.

      I had zero confidence in my abilities, so I started over. I took math courses that were so remedial they weren’t even accredited (to give you an idea of just how remedial, I recognize the content again in my third grader’s homework). I silenced that self-criticism you mentioned and learned new ways to study. Eventually I accepted that maybe I wasn’t bad at math, maybe I just learned differently from other people and I had to work harder at it.

      I took math class after math class until I got through College Algebra (with an A, I’m proud to say). But I didn’t stop there. I found out something about myself that astounded everyone I knew: I like math. I thought it was fun. I loved the challenge in every class, every exam, every problem. I went on to graduate with a degree in Mathematics, something I never in my wildest childhood dreams thought I’d ever do.

      It took me nine years, but I did it.

      What I’m trying to say with this story is this: don’t give up on yourself. Do you know how good it felt to walk across that stage with a diploma in a subject everyone (including myself) thought I’d fail at? I want that triumph for you. I want it for everyone.

      Okay, so the exam was hard. So hard you failed it twice. But that doesn’t mean success isn’t possible. If anything, those failures make success all the sweeter. If you want it bad enough, go get it. Don’t give up until you get it. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.


      • Tina Gower says:

        *cries* I’ll raise my hand that I’m one of the people that got to watch Meghan through this whole journey. I have the same story, but with writing. I have a severe disability that makes reading and writing harder for me, but I became *drumroll* a writer…of all things.

        Failure is okay if you use it as a stepping stone to bigger/better versions of yourself.

        We fail exams for all sorts of reasons. Not getting the right info the right way, not the right teacher, not studying the right concepts, maybe all the above. Calling out for help is not a sign a weakness. You are more than the F on your exam. Do not let this define you.

  4. Shaylabird says:

    What a great post! Good on you for pushing your comfort zone. 🙂

    With art, I feel like every person needs to find their own balance between learning/practicing the tried-and-true techniques and just doing what feels right to them. I mean, if you decide you want to learn to be a photo-realistic painter and you spend a lot of time working on technique to get to that point, that’s great. But alternatively, it can be freeing to allow yourself just to create the way you naturally create and to come to appreciate that that’s your “way” for the moment, “flawed” as it might be. I wonder if your “Excel spreadsheet” personality type might lend itself more naturally to a different style/medium, such as creating intricate patterns with pen/ink.

    It’s great to learn technique and grow with a medium, but I think the art ends up more authentic when you couple that with the freedom to let yourself experiment and to reframe your artistic “failures” as a kind of personal expression.

  5. Meghan, you are just absolutely great, I am subscribing to your blog forthwith! Looking forward to seeing your next painting. You are so right – the final product doesn’t have to be perfect, but what is excellent is the act of trying something new 🙂

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