FAILING FORWARD is a monthly column where women in the industry open up about failure and remind us that it is a big part of the process. It’s not about the stumble, it’s about the courage and strength to get back up, to persevere without loss of enthusiasm. These incredible women remind us that the road isn’t easy but that’s no reason to give up. This week we sit down with Amber Benson.
Amber Benson is best known as Tara Maclay on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. She was one half of the groundbreaking Willow-Tara OTP, one of the first lesbian couples portrayed on primetime television. Today, she is a successful novelist, TV writer, and director.
Amber, you’ve been in the industry for decades and have worn many hats – actor, writer, producer, director – successful at all of the above. What does the word “failure” mean to you?
I think failing is the only way you learn. I know for a fact that I am a better artist (and human) because of the failures I’ve had…and there have been many. I love that Churchill quote: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” That basically sums up my life – ha.
How has that helped you get to where you are?
There have been a number of times in my life where I said yes to something and then it didn’t work out quite the way I expected…but when I look back now, I can see that there was always a take away from the experience. I either learned what not to do in the future or I found a person through the gig who I gelled with and they became a part of my life (creatively and/or personally). Every experience you have – for better or for worse – changes you.
Can you remember a specific time where you wanted to give up, or felt helpless in your career?
When I was transitioning from being a working actor to a novelist, I was pretty sure I was going to fall flat on my face. I had decided if I couldn’t make a go of this new career course then I was just going to sell everything I owned and be a nomad. There is something very appealing about the idea of being unencumbered – and it’s absolutely terrifying at the same time. At that time, the idea of failure made me want to disappear…I hadn’t quite accepted that failure is important.
How did you overcome that?
This is how I survive failure AND success: I just keep on keeping on – even when things get dark, the beauty (and horror) of life is that things change…tomorrow is another day, blah, blah, blah. Which is such a platitude – but knowing that change is inevitable does help me get up in the morning – because I have definitely had my share of crap days…it’s nice to think that the next day may be a better one.
You mentioned earlier “failure is important.” Why is that?
If you don’t fail, the success you find doesn’t have the same value. Basically: in order to know how good you’ve got it, you have to have rough times to compare it to…once again, platitude city…but I think understanding the duality of life makes the bad stuff a lot more palatable.
How is perseverance important in our field?
‘Overnight success’ in the Entertainment Industry actually means: I am really great at persevering. Because believe me, if you look at 99% of the people in this town, you will see that their ‘overnight success’ happened after 5/10/15 years of toil and struggle.
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