I have made some pretty big mistakes in life. Not going to the doctor for a big issue, overlooking important dates, not trying hard enough and etc. We have all been there and people have failed in larger and bigger ways than me and survived. I wanted to write this to describe how I dealt with some big failures and how it could it help you deal with them as well.
1. Reframe failure
I used to believe that failure was a sign that you did something wrong. My goal in photography is to take good photos. Hopefully I can do this over and over and suddenly become a good photographer someday. What if the good photo wasn't the challenge though? What if the challenge was growth?
The truth of the matter is that understanding development comes from failure. People begin to get better when they fail, they move towards failure, they discover something as a result of failing, they fail again, they discover something else, they fail again, they discover something else. So the model for personal development is antithetical to the model for professional success. - Milton Glaser
This quote from Milton Glaser changed how I looked at photography and failure. If you want to grow in photography or anything else there needs to a steady stream of learning and failure. Maybe I someday I will master the ability to walk into a tattoo shop and shoot amazing pictures. If I only focus on this I'm pretty sure I will eventually get better but it doesn't mean I will grow, to do that I'll need to push myself to make mistakes and take bad shots.
You have a couple of ways to look at bad shots now. One is that you went for something and it didn't work out. The other is that these shots are signs that you are growing and not being complacent.
2. You aren't your failures
I'm not the greatest person with feedback. I usually personalize my work and creations as ways to measure myself. If this photograph is bad it's because I'm not a good photographer and can't take good shots. If you fall into this came realize you are not alone. <link to clip on PBS> https://youtu.be/2LNiJK3rK9s?t=1m9s
Last week I was in a work meeting and gave out an idea. My boss ripped into it, for a good five minutes. My boss and I think through talking so we we're both realizing why it was a bad idea and how it would be seen from different angles. The shocking part for me was how well I handled it. I expected myself to upset or hurt but found myself treating the idea as a totally independent thing outside of myself. It was so damn freeing.
You aren't your shots, or what you say, or the failures you had, or what people think, or what you own/wear/live/have access to. You are you. And unless you are a terrible human being who does things to purposely hurt and harm others, then you are perfectly fine. As a whole you are more than your qualifiers and achievements. Just because a photo is bad or report is wrong does not make you less worthy or flawed. If you never took another photo in your life it wouldn't make you less of person either.
Stepping back and realizing that what you have done is not you and does not represent the entireness of your worth is a healthier way to think about your work and life. I haven't fully mastered this yet but I hope I can always remember it.
3. Without a Net
IN high school I played tennis. I was never great and lost a lot but it was important to my life. I remember a really important discussion I had with my coach about teammate and me.
"The difference between you and him is that you don't play with a net. You know that if you fall or fail you'll there is net there you won't die. And maybe you do crash, it's not that bad you can always get back up"
It's weird what stays in your mind as you grow older but I've always remembered this quote when taking risks. The worst thing that can happen isn't that bad and even if it is bad you can probably survive it. This doesn't mean I'm skydiving pretty soon but I've developed an ability to walk into some pretty weird situations to see how they'll play out.
I'll push hard on things and take weird turns because I like not knowing how this will end. All of these things allow me to be in places and take pictures where I would of never expected.
Failures and mistakes are a large part of getting better. Looking at them in new ways, realizing they don't represent you and being realistic about consequences has helped me take more risks. For the past couple of years I've been pretty complacent with work and art and now it's all a bit hairy and difficult. It's stressful at times not knowing how everything will work out but I'm so glad to be in a situation where the ending isn't pre-written and I always know I'm growing.