Today, I choose to be exposed
For weeks back in high school, I kneaded, slipped, and scored together a life-sized red clay representation of the screaming head from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It was one of a series of terrible rip-offs borne out of my obsession with the film.
The thing blew up in the kiln.
It destroyed not only itself but, in gorgeous irony within those kiln walls, took out several other students’ pieces with it.
At the time, angst ran thicker than blood in my veins. I was convinced that my art teacher just hated me and a not-small suspicion emerged that this might be an act of sabotage.
(It seems likely that I subverted thousands of years of convention by building it My Way; especially back then, I could be slow to admit that any rules were good rules.)
“It’s a happy accident,” the teacher said. I could’ve punched her square in the face. Of course she was happy. And my 15-year-old self gave up.
Fuck her. Fuck failure. I needed my idea to be perfect.
Over the next few days, we pieced the remnants of the face back together, crafting a new, less vulnerable mouth with more structurally supportive teeth. We abandoned trying to mount it on the over-strained neck—now in about 22 pieces—and aimed for a mask.
I had been entirely too rigid, too close to it, too arrogant. I was myopic about its vulnerabilities and too stubborn to admit my weaknesses—and therefore 100% prone to emotional overload when failure occurred.
It was a lesson about creativity and contribution and collaboration and balance—about taking time to do something properly so your vision solidifies (and so you don’t demolish the work of those around you). Not sacrificing quality for speed or stubbornness, and not being afraid to fail. Not being afraid of the Happy Accidents.
Being skeptical not just of those around you but of your own limitations.
As entrepreneurs, leaders of teams and in communities, and in our daily lives, to strive means to try—and fail. And fail again. And try again.
And all that trying can make you feel pretty raw. It can open you up to the urge to pitch the It’s not FAIR fit every once in a while.
If you have the focus and (mostly) patience to casually read philosophy and/or are as fascinated as I am by randomness and chance, I recommend Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto series.
Beginning with Fooled by Randomness:
It certainly takes bravery to remain skeptical; it takes inordinate courage to introspect, to confront oneself, to accept one’s limitations—scientists are seeing more and more evidence that we are specifically designed by mother nature to fool ourselves.
In the New York Times bestselling The Black Swan (for Taleb, a Black Swan can be the unforeseen Happy Accident):
… maximize the serendipity around you. Sextus Empiricus retold the story of Apelles the Painter, who, while doing a portrait of a horse, was attempting to depict the foam from the horse’s mouth. After trying very hard and making a mess, he gave up and, in irritation, took the sponge he used for cleaning the brush and threw it at the picture. Where the sponge hit, it left a perfect representation of the foam. Trial and error means trying a lot.
Committing to trial and error means opening yourself up to being exposed. To tempting fate—the good and the bad. With trial and error, we break rules, subvert convention, face disappointment and pain, demonstrate that ambition and arrogance do not equate to perfection.
Without trial and error, we fail perilously—fail to move, to grow, to rise above serving narrow goals.
We fail to stumble upon art when frustration hurls the proverbial wet sponge against the creation we are building.
We fail to see the Happy Accident.
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