Paulo Coelho on The Fear of Failure

The road to success runs right through failure. It’s an idea that’s getting a lot of attention lately. Earlier this month, the Berghs School of Communication in Stockholm organized an exhibition around the whole premise that “success never happens without taking risks. And risks are what you’re capable of taking when you overcome the fear of failing.” But how to do that? How to take that leap? The exhibition put that question to artists and thinkers who know success in a very intimate way. (See full list on BrainPickings here.) That includes Paulo Coelho, the author of The Alchemist, a book that has sold 65 million copies across 150 countries, and he had this to say:

I’m never paralyzed by my fear of failure… I say “Ok, I’m doing my best… ” And, from the moment that I can say that I’m doing my best … I sit down, I breathe, and I say “I put all of my love into it, I did it with all my heart.” … And whether they like [the book] or not is irrelevant, because I like it. I’m committed to the thing that I did. And so far nobody has criticized or refused it. When you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they know it’s there, that you did this with all of your body and soul, so that is what I encourage you to do.

It’s a good thought, which gets pursued on a parallel track by Tim Harford. In 2005, Harford wrote the bestselling book, The Undercover Economist, and now he returns with Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. Speaking yesterday on KQED in San Francisco, the writer, sometimes likened to Malcolm Gladwell, talked about the importance of experimentation, taking calculated risks, and creating room for failure, something that matters as much to individuals as it does to corporations or nations trying to solve difficult problems. You can listen to the full interview here.

Note: You can find some writing by Paulo Coelho in our collection of Free eBooks.

@kitglaisyer



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  1. Guest156 says . . . | May 27, 2011 / 12:35 am

    I always hear both good and bad things about Coelho. I’ve never read any of his books. But the things that he writes as columnist in Brazilian’s G1 news site makes me want to puke. Complete mystical bullshit.

  2. Ana says . . . | May 27, 2011 / 9:18 am

    Yes Guest156! I’m Brazilian and I know how he did his career by marketing his image. He is not a writer he is a self-help author. The numbers are more important than the work for some people.
    We have so many great novelists!
    What a shame that this man is being the representative of Brazilian literature when what he do has no literary value whatsoever.
     

  3. Ana says . . . | May 27, 2011 / 9:23 am

    “When you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they know it’s there, ”
    LOL
    So many artists and writers that are not known even putting all their love and enthusiasm in their work. 
    Sometimes sadness and hate can trigger great texts.

  4. Ana says . . . | May 27, 2011 / 9:23 am

    “When you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they know it’s there, ”
    LOL
    So many artists and writers that are not known even putting all their love and enthusiasm in their work. 
    Sometimes sadness and hate can trigger great texts.

  5. Ana says . . . | May 27, 2011 / 9:23 am

    “When you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they know it’s there, ”
    LOL
    So many artists and writers that are not known even putting all their love and enthusiasm in their work. 
    Sometimes sadness and hate can trigger great texts.

  6. Ana says . . . | May 27, 2011 / 9:31 am

    Oh No! Was it you Dan who wrote it? :( 
    I wrote a post about Tony Judt and used your transcription.
    http://hellaheaven-ana.blogspot.com/2011/05/tony-judt-and-future-of-our-youth-power.html
    Well, you didn’t say you like him or not. You just reported so I’ll take that as a “I don’t like.”; hehe
    Maybe I’ll write about him because i hate to answer “Are you Brazilian? what do you think about Paulo Coelho?”
    I’ll say: “read the post at my blog.” lol

  7. Brendan Mccall says . . . | May 31, 2011 / 2:53 pm

    This topic of the relation between failure & success is one that I have been fascinated by, and participating in my work with, for a number of years now.  

    I disagree with Mr. Coelho´s thesis, that if one puts in “enough love and enthusiasm” into one´s work (such as writing), that others will inherently pick up on that, and success will happen.  Many writers and artists of every discipline have made incredible sacrifices for their work, and are never heard, seen, or known.  This doesn´t mean that they are “not trying hard enough”, or that they have not invested enough of themselves into the work.

    Also, I think it is important to distinguish between the doubts and self-criticisms one gives oneself–the “fear of failure” alluded to in the beginning of Coelho´s statement–with actual failure from reality (such as not getting a callback audition, not getting the grant, getting your manuscript rejected, and so on).  One is limited in how we influence others in the world, particularly in terms of gaining resources.  We cannot “make” a foundation support our latest sculpture through a grant, nor can we “make” a producer back our play or film.  However, we CAN change our outlook and perspective in terms of how we write, sculpt, compose, choreograph, and create.  Being free of those judges is essential to having a healthy, creative life.

    While being one´s own best advocate in the creative process is not a guarantee of success, it does mean that one can be satisfied with one´s work, and can remain hopeful and resourceful to trying again.  I have yet to meet a writer who has had it easy from page one, and who has had everything they have written published.  Nor have I met an actor who has booked every single role they have auditioned for.  Or a choreographer whose work has been received with praise since word Go.  

    Serious artists and professionals–in other words, those that consider their creative work more than a “hobby” or an interest, but something much deeper, more life-consuming–recognize that there will be failures, setbacks, obstacles, and disappointments.  And who knows when these will arise, when they will appear, or how thorough the damage will be.  But if one is seriously dedicated to their work, do not be discouraged.  Try again.  And again.  And again.  Until you reach the success that you seek.  That could be submitting your manuscript to another publisher.  Or self-publishing.  Or turning the novel into a play.  Who knows.  But keep trying.  Keep trying.

    Brendan McCall
    Founder & Artistic Director
    Ensemble Free Theater Norway
    http://www.ensemblefreetheaternorway.com

  8. Alicia says . . . | June 1, 2011 / 12:11 pm

    As with Brendan, I’ve been fascinated by “failure” ever since I started writing about artists more than 20 years ago. I always ask artists: What can we learn from you? More often than not, they say: Don’t be afraid to take risks and to fail. I’ve come to love that answer, and even though I am not an artist, after all these years, I have learned to embrace failure as a stepping stone to discovery. I wrote about “failure” and “risk taking” recently. The rest of y’all might be interested to hear another artist’s take on the same subject: http://www.najp.org/articles/2011/01/embracing-the-non-knowing.html

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