Why you need to navigate the darkness of failure wholeheartedly


I’ve got bad news for you!

‘There is no innovation and creativity without failure.’ Brené Brown

Yes I know, you know. Somehow. In theory. But boy, does it hit you, when it actually happens.

Don’t you want to run away for miles? From this ugly, slimy, green monster called failure, that is just about to summon you into its massive hand?

It’s hungry, it hasn’t eaten for a long time and it will gulp you down in one go. There will be nothing left of you, but a nasty belch! Bón Appetit!

So, who in their right mind would face up to such a monstrosity! Isn’t it much easier to let others do the dirty work? Let them move forward, stumble, face countless obstacles, challenges and failures? Isn’t it much better to let them fight for their life, like a gladiator in the arena, while we eat popcorn and watch with a critical eye?

Of course it is!

No problem, you’ve just assigned yourself to being a couch potatoe for the rest of your life. Dying the slow death of boredom! Every day is exactly the same! You wake up, hate the alarm clock, you go to work, hate work, you come back home, ignore your nagging wife and watch football instead.

Really? Come on! Let’s rather find out how to overcome failure, so that it doesn’t drag you in like a sack of potatoes. Let’s find out how to deal with failure without being defined by it.

Because only by embracing our failures, we allow ourselves to keep on innovating and creating! I tell you, this is the ultimate gift of life. Whether it’s inventing a new cake recipe, finding a way to communicate better or painting an original picture. You name it.

So, how do we face the slimy, huge, green monster, that wants to eat us alive until there is nothing left but a big belch?

Dealing with our failures wholeheartedly is one of the scariest things ever. Ever!

It’s as if your driving through a storm. The night is pitch black and the road windy. The wind is haling, the rain is attacking your windscreen and wafts of mist make it impossible to see anything. Someeone is tailgating you and their light is blinding you.

You wonder, will I get in one piece to my destination?

Yes, you will, if you stay present and take things slowly. But it still will be terrifying.

However, there are three steps, that will make it a lot easier to navigate through this dark, stormy night, called facing failure gracefully.

They are:

Your lights, your wipers and your breaks.

Let’s start with the lights.

The Lights!

Shine a light on your failure. Don’t blame, don’t self loathe, don’t critisize yourself or others. Instead be curious and find out what really happened. Try to resist the urge to turn a blind eye on your failure, moving on to the next project swiftly. Most importantly. While you’re being curious about what happened, turn your self compassion switch on, full volume!

Let me give you an example.

About 15 years ago, I performed my first solo show called ‘Circus of Emotions’ in a small fringe theatre in London. I was lucky, so I thought. I had gotten a slot for one week, without having to rent the space, but having a box office split instead. It was Saturday Night and I was hoping for a big audience. The week so far hadn’t gone well. One night I had had to cancel, because no one came and the other I performed in front of only one person. One person, imagine that!

‘This night will be different. It’s Saturday. It’ll be a success.’ I told myself.

The lights went on and there were exactly four people sitting in my audience. My director, his wife, my best friend and his girlfriend. I performerd, of course I did. That’s what I’ve been taught.

‘You put on a show, no matter what the circumstances. Even, if your grandma just died.’

But the minute I had finished, I fell into my director’s arms and cried my eyes out. I was devastated. The whole week had been an absolute desaster!

Ron, my director, saved me from my pool of shame, I was drowning in. He shone the light. 

Here’s what he said:

‘Just because no one came to see your show, doesn’t mean that you haven’t gotten a good show. It means not enough people knew about it. It means this kind of shit happens to the best actors.’

Got it? Let’s move on to the wipers. Shall we?


The Wipers!

Wipers remove dirt and rain, so that we can see clearly. We not only need to be curious, but we actually need to invest in finding out the truth about what just happend when we fell.

Usually we immediately make up a story to soothe ourselves. We don’t care whether it’s true or not, but we know where we stand at least.

Did you know that humans are prone to invent stories, because it releases dopamine? It’s true!

The story I made up was.

‘No one is interested in my work!’

This is exactly where we need to stop ourselves in our tracks and ask:

Which are my own fabrications and which ones are the facts?

In my case, it of course wasn’t true that no one was interested in my work. I had four people in my audience. People that are dear to me and friends, who were really invested in what I did. They supported me all the way.

Looking back on it, investigating, there were quite a few factors playing into my nasty experience.

I had gotten the slot on very short notice, because another company had cancelled. This meant I had only a week to advertise, which wasn’t long enough, really.

Unfortunately, the theatre, didn’t put a lot of effort into their advertising. In general they weren’t very helpful or supportive. They even didn’t have anyone helping to hang the lights and their changing room was a mess!

After having removed the rain and the dirt with my wipers of truth finding, I’ve come up with three things I learned from my slimy, green monster, called failure.

  • The place needs to be right and the people need to be supportive
  • I need to have a marketing plan in action and enough time to execute it
  • Don’t just take anything, because it is a chance to perform.

This was a tough process, but it helped unmask the untrue story ‘No one is interested’ and shift geers to what I need to do the next time to make things more prone for success.

Okay, you’re all set for the third step. The breaks.


The Breaks!

Remember, we are sill on the windy road, in the midst of the storm. Take a break! Yes, you’ve got to allow yourself to slow down. You can’t just speed on to the next best thing. It’ll break your neck! Literally. Stepping on the breaks, means owning our story, coming to terms with it. Embracing the good and not so good, the shadow parts.

Here’s my story.

Yes, I had a solo show, which I had written, created and performed myself. I had a brilliant, supportive director. And I was scared shitless. I didn’t have a clue how to make this succesfull, but I felt pressure to make it so. The main thing was, that I thought I shouldn’t feel so anxious. I should grab the bull by the horns. While doing that, I felt on the inside, that I was weak and not good enough. Still I did my best to be courageous.

I went ahead with the inner slogan: ‘Don’t be a weakling, get a place, perform. You’ve got to be confident.’

Guess what, that didn’t work! I didn’t allow myself to be vulnerable, to allow the fear to have a place of its own.

Now, I know better. Yes it’s good to move ahead, but in my own pace, gently with the best possible conditions, because I am not tough like that and I most probably will never be.

That’s it. Now, you know my three essentials for coping with failure wholeheartedly.

Lights, wipers, breaks

  1. Shine the light of compassion on a failure or have a friend do it for you

  2. Discern with your wipers what’s true and what’s not true.

  3. Pull, the breaks, slow down and look at your story wholeheartedly and than own it.

I want to finish this blog with three book recommendations. They have helped me immensely in dealing with my failures more gracefully, instead of running for miles or worse, just giving up.

Here they are:

Self -Compassion by Kristine Neff

The three take aways:

  • Kristine Neff explains compassion from a researher’s point of view
  • There are great exercises to train the self-compassion muscle
  • It gives you an insight into how compassion can improve your life

Rising strong by Brené Brown

The three take aways:

  • Brené Brown is all about facts and how to put things into action. She’s a great storyteller and researcher.
  • The book gives many examples of different areas of failure and how to deal with them
  • Brené came up with an easy to apply process (a set of questions) that helps you find out the true story versus the one you just invented

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle

The three take aways:

  • It’s Glennon Doyle’s very personal story, dealing with messing up (addiction) and confronting your own pain
  • It’s a great read, because it is so personal and universal at the same time
  • It shows that owning our story and our pain, is most likely the best thing we ever can do. It’s the only way we can move forward and transform our failures into seeds for success.


It’s up to you now to get off your coach and deal with your failures differently.

Switch off the TV, take a big breath and keep on daring! Dare, dare, dare! Create, innovate, fail, create, innovate! Don’t give up! It’s better than being bored for the rest of your life! Who wants that!

If you feel you can’t do it on your own and need help, head over to my be creative site and book a free taster coaching session with me.

We’ll shine a light on the green, slimy monster together. Promised!

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paul croft
paul croft

Hi Anya: really good stuff and very true for musicians also. I remember a really great guitarist – a virtuoso and professor of a faculty in Denver – telling us that we have to regard elements of our practice dispassionately, just as a scientist would with their experiments: an essential opportunity to figure out which bits worked and which bits didn’t but. NOT a reason for reacting to mistakes that may occur with anger, irritation, embarrassment etc. but instead to embrace them and learn what they are telling us.

I really liked the way you expressed that yourself.


Tricia Bertrand

Love that you shared your heart here! This is a great read packed with loads of great advice.

Edward Chapman
Edward Chapman

Great blog post – loved it; so true.