Fail Early and Often

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I’m sitting on a row of raised seats in a small hallway looking through a large, glassless window at a group of kids kicking and punching into the air. 

“Repeat after me!” a booming voice demands. 

“Failure!” it says. A chorus follows: “Failure!”

“Is my friend!” and the chorus repeats: “Is my friend!” 

I often think about that karate class my son took from the time he was five until he was seven. I find myself repeating the sensei’s words about failure to myself. I don’t kick or punch or break any boards, I just whisper the words in my head when I need the reminder.

His point was that failure can teach us, help us grow. That is, if we don’t snuggle up to it like a warm familiar blanket or pretend it’s a fictional character we can will away. 

Matisse said “Creativity takes courage.” I’ve searched, with no luck, for the context of this often-used quote. I imagine he meant it takes courage to put ourselves in front of others, but also to fail. Creating things means I inevitably fall short or flat. And by doing so I almost always learn something (eventually). 

It isn’t just about painting either. I’m listening to what failure has to tell me about being a parent, a wife, a friend. “Well that didn’t work” I say to myself often. “What might next time?” 

I used to be so afraid of failure that I hid away from it. The irony is that by avoiding it, I was evading success too. They are opposite sides of the same coin. We have to go through one to get to the other. 

Accepting my own inherent, undeniable, inescapable imperfection is the heart of my courage and the catalyst for my growth. So I’m planning to continue to fail early and often. I’m planning to keep going back to the easel, the dinner table, the loved one, the hard conversation, the running track, the parent/teacher meeting. I’m planning to remember, as the wise sensei once instructed my then five year old, that failure is my friend– the wise and old type that helps me to see things I hadn’t seen before. 


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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

October 16, 2020

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