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The Rise

Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

By Sarah Lewis
12-minute read
The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis

Through a broad range of anecdotes and stories, The Rise illustrates how some of humanity’s greatest achievements arose out of what initially appeared to be failure. The author shows how setbacks are an inevitable – and in fact, necessary – part of anyone’s journey to mastery.

  • Anyone who’s struggling to get an idea off the ground
  • Anyone who has difficulty coping with failure
  • Creatives of any kind

Sarah Lewis is a curator and art historian on faculty at the Yale University School of Art. She has served on President Obama’s Art Policy Committee and appeared on Oprah’s Power List.

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The Rise

Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

By Sarah Lewis
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis
Synopsis

Through a broad range of anecdotes and stories, The Rise illustrates how some of humanity’s greatest achievements arose out of what initially appeared to be failure. The author shows how setbacks are an inevitable – and in fact, necessary – part of anyone’s journey to mastery.

Key idea 1 of 7

Mastery has nothing to do with avoiding failure; rather, it’s about relentlessly striving for more.

When people speak about artists and athletes, they often use black-and-white terms, like “good” or “bad,” “success” or “failure.” Well, that kind of hierarchical language is deeply misguided, because failure can actually help you achieve mastery.

To understand why failure can be such an advantage, first we need to understand mastery. Mastery is about endurance, not perfectionism (which is bound up in how we want others to perceive us) or success (related to particular events). In other words, mastery is the unrelenting pursuit of a goal. Think of it like chasing something that can never be caught; it’s about striving for the impossible.

Digging a little deeper, consider the Archer’s Paradox as a metaphor for the process of mastery. The Archer’s Paradox refers to the idea that the archer will draw her bow and point her arrow in a way that's intended to account for elements that are outside of her control, like weather.

So, in a sense, the archer is constantly striving to control things that cannot be controlled. And like the archer, those of us who seek mastery also try to hit the target despite facing enormous trials over which we have no control.

And since mastery is borne of this continual process of unrelenting striving, we shouldn’t even use the word “failure” to describe the difficulties we encounter on the path. Because as long as you keep working past the moment of “failure,” the event becomes a learning experience.

Not to mention, these difficulties (i.e. “failures”) can also be a form of motivation. As playwright Tennessee Williams said, “The apparent failure of a play sends me back to my typewriter that very night, before the reviews are out. I am more compelled to get back to work than if I had a success.”

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