To Embrace Greatness, Embrace Failure: 21 Tributes to Failure from Creative Giants

Between you and greatness lies a few failures. You’ll be in good company when you get there.

Here’s the deal: You’re smart. You’re creative. You know what you’re doing.

But you’re scared as hell of failing and making mistakes. Maybe it’s because you’ve been so damned good at whatever you’ve done for your whole life. Maybe it’s because you quit a good thing to pick up something risky. Maybe it’s because you’re scared of what happens when you don’t fail.

I get that. I do. I could write all day about how you need to embrace failure and mistakes before you can really unleash your creative potential, but who am I to tell you this? So I’ve enlisted the help of a few thousand years’ worth of creatives to help me out:

If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.–Thomas A. Edison (1847–1931), Encyclopaedia Britannica
I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit — I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.–Ernest Hemingway
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.–Joseph Chilton Pearce
No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes.–W. E. Gladstone
To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.-Plutarch (46 AD–120 AD)
The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.–E. J. Phelps
Some of the best lessons we ever learn are learned from past mistakes. The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future.
–Dale E. Turner
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.–Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.–Steve Jobs (1955–2011)
If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.–Frank Wilczek (1951– )
If I had my life to live over… I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.–Nadine Stair
Mistakes are the portals of discovery.–James Joyce (1882–1941)
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.–Scott Adams (1957– ), ‘The Dilbert Principle’
To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.–Peter McWilliams, Life 101
If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.–Tallulah Bankhead (1903–1968)
A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.–George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)
You cannot measure a man by his failures. You must know what use he makes of them. What did they mean to him. What did he get out of them.–Orison Swett Marden (1850–1924)
If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.–Mary Pickford (1893–1979)
Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.–John Keats (1795–1821)
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat –Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)
Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t as all. You can be discouraged by failure — or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that’s where you will find success.–Thomas J. Watson

The bottom line: I’d tell you to get over your fear of failure and mistakes, but it’s natural to feel that way. I’m asking you to accept that failure and mistakes are part and parcel of greatness. You can either let fear of failure and mistakes cripple you and keep you stuck, or you can join the rest of the successes throughout history and rack up a good tab of failures and mistakes while you’re at it. Your call.

Failure is like prom night. We make a big deal about it before it happens, but its significance after the fact fades quickly.

p.s. No, this is not encouraging you to do less than your best. You knew that already and were just coming up with a sophisticated way of hiding from your work.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please recommend and share it so others can find it!

Call To Action

Embracing failure may be tough, but it’s a part of the path of excellence. Click here for more resources to help you overcome failure and do your best work.