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The importance of failure

Anton Dvorak wanted to write beautiful operas, but he failed repeatedly because of bad librettos or stories that couldn’t carry a opera.  Success and failure did not disturb him.

He described it as this, “They like something today,  but jeer at it tomorrow.  I’ve already had a taste ov that. And it’s particularly hard for a Czech musician. Only now are they giving Smetana a chance, long after his death.  So not even the greatest success makes me conceited. I work with integrity and do best that way.   This conviction gives me the greatest satisfaction.  If I have created something for posterity, then my devotion to music and the work of many years will have fulfilled the most splendid purposes.”

He did not attach himself to the roar of the crowd or their displeasure.  He was aware that acclaim might come after his death.  He also knew that critics and fans were fickle.  They could like something on Monday and hate it on Tuesday.

The psychologist Charlotte Kasl, PhD, and author of If the Buddha Got Stuck, remarks that resilient people do not equate their inner selves with external success or failure.  These people often see life as an adventure with wins and losses.  And they handle mistakes by simply trying another tack to achieve their ultimate goal.  But they do not judge themselves as failing.  It just is a way of learning what doesn’t work and finding another way that might solve the problem.

Indeed, Dvorak’s opera, Rusalka, was a hit although it was not performed in Vienna in his lifetime.

Keats too learned from his mistakes.  His early poetry does not have the signs of genius his later works demonstrate.  Furthermore, critics argued that a working class person would dare write poetry which was restricted, in their opinion, to the upper classes.  Fortunately, Keats ignored them and wrote what was in his heart.

Literary critics have commented of the early “fingering and gropings” of Keats creative imagination. second rate verse or worse was a hallmark of Keats early work.  And throughout his career he dashed off indifferent verses with no thought of publishing.

He wasn’t married to his words or his poetry.  And by allowing himself to be a poor poet, he opened himself to learning his craft, becoming one of the greatest English poets.  If we have to be a great writer, we slam the door on the craft, dooming ourselves to failure.


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