Responding to Failure in Aerial Arts & Life – Part 2

This is a continuation of our community-driven conversation on Failure in Aerial Arts and Life. If you haven’t seen it yet, go check out Part 1.

Failure as a sign

We left off with the point that trying again and again in the face of failure is a way to practice love and build character. But this is not to say that the right response to failure is always to try try again.

It is important to notice when something truly is not working. We can look a little closer at why this thing is not happening, not opening for us. There is a possibility that this thing is not really a good fit for us. We have to look carefully and ask, is this failure asking me to push through and grow, or is it actually indicating a need to change direction? Knowing the difference can be really hard, and I think sometimes we ultimately cannot know for sure.

I found Carmen’s comment helpful:

If you have put in ungodly amounts of preparation and still fail (maybe a couple of times), then I think that the lesson may be that whatever you are trying to do is not for you. Sometimes I have failed at things (most notably relationships) because deep down I knew they were really not right for me.

Consider your most recent or memorable failures.

  • Did you REALLY try your hardest?
  • Did you REALLY prepare properly?
  • Did you REALLY want this with your whole heart?
  • Did you *honestly* put in ungodly amounts of preparation?

When I reflect, I realize there are multiple ways to interpret my failure to open a studio. I can argue that the world is not conducive to artists who don’t have an abundance of resources and capital, or that rural towns can’t support something like aerial arts. Or I can ask if there was something about this dream that wasn’t quite right for me. Maybe some details need to change. I can also think about what is still working. Not opening a studio does reduce my costs, frees up time, and brings me into closer relationship with the people whose spaces I use, even if it limits what I can do and requires compromise. 

It seems that instead of obsessing over a specific vision, or getting sucked into the idea of destiny, the important thing is how we relate to what actually happens. I’m skeptical that there is one “right” version of our lives that we need to “figure out” but I do think we can pay attention to the signs and seek alignment by practicing honesty and flexibility.

How about you? Is your failure or struggle trying to tell you to try harder and put your whole heart into it? Or is it trying to nudge you toward a different path?

Often I find that the truth is a whisper in the back of the mind, especially when it is the exact thing we don’t want to hear. I have also found that going through with the more difficult choice and leaving something that isn’t right for you has a way of bringing about incredible magic. Everything we welcome into our life has an opportunity cost. If you persist with this thing that is not working, what better opportunity might you be closing yourself to?


Failure sucks, (but…)

I expected the responses to my questions about failure to be generally constructive and uplifting. They were, AND, I was also relieved to find everyone acknowledging that while we can glean wisdom from failure, it also sucks. 

Shelby shares an un-sugarcoated perspective on her own failures:

I think that positive things have come out of my past failures, but I’m not sure if the positives would have outweighed my success if I hadn’t failed in the first place. I am never happy about failure, but I can also recognize that I wouldn’t be the same person without my multitudes of mistakes.

Iga likewise acknowledges the frustration of failure while also pointing out its necessity:

Failure is a part of the process, and as much as I hate it, I’ve also realised that you have to fail, especially if you’re trying something hard. Your body might not be ready for it, and if you did it the first time, that means you’re better than you thought.

Carmen echoes these points, expressing what I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another:

Failure in aerial can be psychologically frustrating, I find. To fail in aerial is to have your desire for something unfulfilled, at least for the present.

It’s okay to feel frustrated or disappointed. Pressuring yourself or someone  else to feel a certain way about something without acknowledging the legitimate feelings is damaging and ultimately unhelpful. Thank you aerial friends for the permission to have negative feelings about failure!

That said, and as everyone has so far alluded to, failure is also dynamic and dimensional, meaning there is more to it than just the pain. If we are willing and engage with failure creatively, we will find room for more than just frustration and disappointment.


Positive spins on failure

Comfort with failure can be a major asset in journeys of skill development. Iga points out:

I’m definitely more persistent now, and I know that failure is the process (basically), because to learn something new you fail and fail and fail. When I started aerial, I gave up really easily. Now, I can practice a new move for even 2 days before I get it (that’s my personal record – for now).

This resonated with me (though my personal record for failing at a skill is more like 6 months haha). I have definitely found a growing comfort with failure, and Iga points out that this is consistent with the intrinsic difficulty of what we do as aerialists:

People look at me failing and congratulate me on my persistence…If I struggle to do something, then I can really appreciate how hard it is, and notice how good I am! It’s an amazing way to turn failure around and motivate yourself!

I love this point: if I struggle to do something, then I can really appreciate how hard it is. Remember that in any aerial discipline, you’re doing something REALLY REALLY HARD! Aerial arts is not the first choice for people who want instant gratification or easy successes. This is an extremely challenging field that requires notable determination, persistence, humility, and humor. Give yourself some credit for being so badass that you even considered trying this thing that you sometimes fail at. 

Another uplifting observation Iga had was that failure can lead to new discovery:

I found a really cool new pose once, because I couldn’t do a sequence and kept failing in the middle. After having some fun with that, I tried the sequence a few more times, and did it successfully, so now I knew two new things!

Iga is so right. This happens to me ALL THE TIME and it reminds me that our *ideas* of success can sometimes actually limit our creativity. It’s great to have clear vision, BUT, if we always have a fixed idea of what we want, we may miss out on variations that we could equally enjoy. If you’re not stoked on your current failures, perhaps you can forage for some hidden gifts in the vicinity. I will say that all but one of the original aerial silks sequences I have designed came into existence through unplanned, exploratory movement. 

When you do decide to push through rather than change course, let’s consider some ways to work through failure.


Aerialists’ advice on working through failure

When you’re slogging through the necessary failures en route to mastery and success, there are ways to keep your motivation up. I found the aerialists’ ideas in the survey really encouraging and helpful. Iga suggests:

Take a break, and look at what you’re trying to do more carefully. Also just look at what you’re doing, and why you’re failing, so you know what to improve. I like to do some fun stuff, and then try again.

Shelby shares:

My best method of coping with failure is to try again. Not the most sophisticated advice, but getting back to work and trying again is what makes me feel better after failure. I think that regret is an unnecessary emotion, and I try not to obsess over my mistakes.

This comes back to our previous problem of knowing when it is time to keep trying and when it is time to stop. Again, it’s not often clear. That’s why I find Iga’s advice to look at what you’re trying to do more carefully so helpful. Sometimes we think we’ve thought hard about something, but we may just need to think soft, or slow, or different.

Another way to cope with failure is to practicing naming our successes. For example, although I have failed to open a studio, my students have been giving me lots of positive feedback about the silks classes I still teach, and that’s really important to me. Try this! Naming your successes can really help subdue the failures that loom over you. Even better if you write it down.

Huge thank you to the aerialists who contributed their ideas to this blog post. I would have never been able to come up with all these ideas myself. Incidentally, I wrote my own blog post on this topic before calling for survey responses. I became so interested in the responses that I threw out my original piece. Seems to fit in with the theme 😉

I periodically send out surveys so that YOU can contribute to these community-driven blog posts. If you’re not on my email list and would like to become a contributor, or simply be informed whenever we publish a new piece, sign up in the sidebar.