I ran across a tale. I’m not certain it’s true. It has to do with Thomas Edison and it goes like this:
Edison failed two thousand times before he finally hit on the correct formula for building the electric light bulb. When a news reporter asked him about how it felt to fail a spectacular two thousand of times, Edison reportedly looked at the man and said, “Failure? I never failed, not once. It simply took two thousand steps to get the light bulb shining.”
True or not, I love this. It reminds me of that wonderful moment in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park with George”, based on the life of Georges Seurat, where Mandy Patinkin sings the brilliant song about the about hat: “There’s a part of you always standing by, mapping out the sky…finishing a hat…starting on a hat…look, I made a hat…where there never was a hat.”
That’s what we do, those of us who go deep into this crumbly earth of our imagination, pulling out stray bits of twigs and broken pottery and abandoned doll’s eyes…we’re crafting the perfect hat…the luminous light bulb…the new thing built out of nothing but grit and time and stray parts.
There’s a community of us—we creators. And the more we encourage ourselves to reframe failure and setbacks and stuttering starts as merely steps in the process, the more we give ourselves over to the rapture of working on the hat—even though work is slow and meticulous and so often seems to involve ripping out threads from a previous day that aren’t quite sparkly or nubby or texturally interesting enough— the more we give ourselves over to the steps of creation, the truer we are to our calling, ourselves, and to that insistent, small, niggling voice inside that reminds us that getting the light to shine properly involves trying everything we know, going down every path, experimenting with every filament and conductor and so that next time we’ll try a new path…and another…and another…until eventually, in a flash of ecstatic brilliance, we’re turning on a light…where there never was a light.
Fail brilliantly, my friends.