I really enjoyed talking at Fail Better recently, which is a society from the MA Graphic Communication Design course Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. They hosts a series of talks and has been ‘founded on the belief that there is no greater hindrance to the creative process than a crippling fear of failure. Our aim is to de-stigmatise ‘failure’ by creating a platform for working creatives and students to speak candidly of their own experiences with ‘failure’ and more importantly, what they have learned from them.’
I shared various experiences of so called failure, including not getting on the degree course I wanted, getting kicked out of art college after my first year, projects being wiped off computers the day before deadlines as well as musings on setting up the third studio of my career so far. And that you learn more from mistakes or difficulties than from when things go smoothly anyway! I talked about learning to trust our instincts, being grateful for second chances, and that good communication is key to pretty much everything!
I discussed how we shouldn’t talk about failure in isolation and that, for me at least, it has to be in the context of success as well. And what success means to us as a society and as individuals. I encouraged the audience to think about what success means to them. Not their bosses view of success or colleagues or tutors or friends or family. Not society’s version of success but what it means for each of us. Because I believe until you start to investigate what success means to you, and what you really want from life, not what you’re told to want or think others expect, how will you know if you’re on the right path to achieve that?
I talked about how success and happiness are closely connected to finding our purpose. And that exploring our purpose can be a helpful exercise in defining what success means to us.
Then I introduced the japanese idea of ‘ikigai’ that translates simply as, ‘reason for being’.
And how it is the convergence of four elements:
And how thinking like this is a valuable exercise in defining what success means to us.
I went on the discuss the idea that ‘What you can get paid for’ is one of the four elements but obviously there is a lot more going on besides the purely financial here. And the word refers to mental and spiritual state behind our circumstance as opposed to how well off we are financially. And that striving for more money is an accepted, sometimes celebrated part of our culture but that the statistics don’t back this up as a way of achieving happiness. And data suggests that not earning enough does make us more miserable But once our basic needs are satisfied, the desire for more and more money generates ever-decreasing returns of happiness. There is evidence that happiness actually falls with higher incomes and those with the highest incomes report the least sense of purpose in their experiences.
So if you define success as more than the purely financial then there’s some important lessons there I think. And that failure is obviously a part of life but if we start to define what we feel will make us truly happy then we’re doing it on our own terms.
I want to thanks the Etty, Lika, Brie and Hannah for spotlighting such a refreshing and worthwhile theme for discussion. Keep up the great work, and thanks for the amazing card!
It was also lovely to meet my co-speakers on the night who were Graphic designer Sarah Boris, Emilie Chen, who is a freelance graphic designer and art director. And Peter Hall, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for the BA (Hons) Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. I thoroughly enjoyed their talks.
Links: Find out more about Ikigai here.
Read the Guardian article on Paul Dolans new book 'The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?' here.