(Book Review) The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

book review the rise by sarah lewis

The articulate Sarah Lewis, associate professor in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, writes an intriguing account on coming to terms with the process of staying the course in The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery. Lewis strings together words from the world’s brightest achievers on developing grit, playing through the process, and acknowledging failure as an outdated term for unexpected discovery. This book is a necessary adventure for those seeking to create from their most sacred place inside themselves.

Originally published in March of 2014, Lewis’ Los Angeles Times bestseller catalogs moments of greatness and what it took to arrive there for some of history’s most lauded figures, like screenwriter David Seidler (The King’s Speech), Olympic athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and polar explorer and motivational speaker, Ben Saunders. Lewis takes thorough time to unpack the training, attempts, and mental and physical resets that pushed these high-performers to places of excellence while deconstructing the widely-accepted school of thought that perfectionism drives performance.

In The Rise, Lewis writes, “It is the creative process -- what drives invention, discovery, and culture -- that reminds us of how to nimbly convert so-called failure into an irreplaceable advantage.” She highlights ‘the near win’ as an influential force in the process of mastery calling out how our personal utopias propel us to the places that we would never reach if we did not have to prove our own resilience. Lewis also calls out the power of aesthetic force as it pertains to aiding in self-correction and changing perception, or “the gulf between what is and what should be,” and uses the example of an abolitionist’s printed description of a slave ship that paved the way for justice in British Parliament hearings in 1789.

Lewis closes out her treasure chest of anecdotes by taking a deep dive into an aptly final titled chapter, “The Grit of the Arts.” After leading the reader through her own definition of grit and introducing historical characters who exemplify grittiness, she says, “Grit is a portable skill that moves across seemingly varied interests. Grit can be expressed in your chosen pursuit and appear in multiple domains over time.” This definition of sustained moxie wraps readers up in the full embrace of the triad of Lewis’ subtitle and leaves them in a place spurred on by the thought of creative endeavor and exploring the unknown for the sake of playful discovery.

In November of 2020, Lewis appeared on research professor Brené Brown’s podcast Dare to Lead for part one of a conversation to dig deeper into topics of The Rise that included surrender, creativity, and the role of imagery as it pertains to creating change. This conversation was revisited on Dare to Lead for part two on January 25, 2021. Lewis’ forthcoming publication Caucasian War: Race and the Remaking of Vision in the United States is set for release in 2022. You can read more about Sarah Lewis by visiting sarahelizabethlewis.com.