When there's tons on the line, "failure's not an option" quickly can become your motto and creed, your mantra of grit and determination. It's positive in that you try to use it to stay motivated even when the going's tough. But if you want real success, ditch this idea as fast as you possibly can.

"Failure's not an option" is really just a socially acceptable way of saying, "Things will be rough if this doesn't work out and I'm scared to deal with that." Why you're scared can be incredibly complicated. It can tie to everything from others depending on you financially to not feeling capable of trying other choices. You can sort that out with reflection and support from others. But the reality is, you are intelligent, adaptable and more than capable of rising to challenges. And by clinging to the "failure's not an option" ideology, you're not really trusting in that, in how powerful you really are.

Failure isn't something to be afraid of or shun. Scientists learned this early. To them, discovering that something doesn't work is just part of the job, and if their conclusion says their hypothesis is wrong, they don't just throw up their hands and destroy the lab with blasts of Limburger cheese. They go in knowing that the odds of "failing" and getting something they didn't expect are high.

And in the same way, some of the most successful entrepreneurs and innovators in history embraced the possibility of failing.

What's different? Why are they so willing to fall flat on their faces?

Successful people who see failure as an option grasp their ability to face unknown future difficulties, and they also accept that failure is a fantastic teacher--it offers information that constantly provides direction. They take solace and rest in that. Henry Ford, for example said "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." And Thomas Edison famously quipped, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

So let's just entertain the idea for a second that you're going to let "failure's not an option" disappear from your vocabulary. What else can you think and say to encourage yourself and others? Consider these positive ideas:

  • If I'm giving my best, I have no reason to regret.
  • If I have to take a different path, it's up to me to enjoy the scenery.
  • Even if I don't get where I thought I would, I'm not standing still.
  • I can find the resources and strength to pivot.
  • The world wants perfection; I want to say I understand more than I did yesterday.

Is the risk sometimes high? Absolutely. But the only way you really lose everything is if you risk nothing. The key is simply to have a recovery plan in the back of your mind, because it's really the idea of being totally stuck after a failure, the idea of not being able to recover, that's so psychologically frightening. Try to eliminate as many variables as you can, and know what you'll do if things don't work out. Maybe that's a career shift, rebranding or finding different investors. Whatever it is, consider it your insurance policy against worry. And if you're not worried, focusing on your goal is a heck of a lot easier.

Published on: Oct 30, 2018
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