We celebrate failure in modern life and use it as a means of self-improvement. My introduction to this conversation comes from the field of startups and entrepreneurship where this badge of honor is well-known as a path toward and predictor of eventual success.

My memory of recognizing failure is rooted in elementary school where incorrect answers to math problems led to a low score. Being the son of a math-loving mother, the failure at school invariably led to additional punishments at home, thereby cementing the memory. The high school punishment of 12 canes on the behind for scoring 36/100 on a math exam further created an expectation to score at least high enough to not be caned again. An expectation that stayed with me long past high school, the teacher, and even into environments that no longer permitted corporal punishment.

A recent discourse between a middle school student and a film artist recently shook that memory loose. During a Q&A hosted by Ballet Des Moines at the Des Moines Art Center, a young man asked a Beau Kenyon, a composer, DaYoung Jung, a ballerina, and Oyoram, a movie maker how they manage failure. Oyoram responded that to him failure isn’t criticism by a client, a critic, an audience or a viewer. Failure instead is when his work fails to live up to his own vision.

Oyoram had earlier shared his process of scripting, modeling, creating, and installing his immersive experiences. He explained how the experiences came alive at scale.

Mental Banquet: Painting with Lights, 2018 Des Moines, Iowa

But if he couldn’t feel what he had imagined and documented during the visioning process, he had experienced failure!

I’ll have to try this technique. Rather than await validation or criticism, I’ll try to be the golfer who knows almost immediately upon hitting the ball or the composer who can hear discordance even when the listener cannot.

So , why not evaluate failure as an unfulfilled expectation. After all, isn’t the expectation tied to the original vision? And if we decouple the two, aren’t we lying in a way that renders success elusive forever?