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How to Overcome the Fear of Failure

by Rochelle Melander

I’m teaching art and writing at a local school. When I present an assignment, one of my second-grade students always says, “I can’t.” It doesn’t matter what we’re doing. Draw a circle. “I can’t.” Give that circle a face. “I can’t.” How about drawing hair on that head? “I can’t.”

To encourage him, I said, “There is no can’t. There’s only try.”

He looked at me, puzzled.

I used different words. “Try drawing hair. If it doesn’t work the first time, you can try again.”

He tried. It worked. Whew.

The artist Corita Kent said, “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.”

Sister Corita Kent (1918-1986) was an artist and educator who used art and poetry to teach people about social justice. Inspired by Andy Warhol, she used words and symbols from advertising slogans, lyrics, popular slang, and the Bible to make art.

Corita Kent coined the term “Plork”—combining play and work as a strategy for experimenting with art.

When we approach our writing with the pressure of getting it right, we freeze. Our brains yell, “You can’t.” We feel like imposters. We can’t focus. We take any distraction that comes our way and ride it into the sunset.

But when we write with the spirit of play and experimentation, we loosen up. We write from our center. We feel the joy of creation.

I encourage you to abandon the idea of perfection. Instead, experiment. Play. See what you can create when you don’t care so much about how it will turn out.

Remember the words of Corita Kent, “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.”

Mightier than the Sword

For more information on Corita Kent and other fierce women, check out my book, Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries who Changed the World through Writing

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