Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Failure is Not an Option... It is a Requirement

**This isn't new ground, but it has been at the tip of my keyboard for some time now. 

For most people, the time of failure is the most important time of testing in their lives. Margaret Thatcher once said that “Failure is not an option,” by which she meant to imply the inevitability of success, but the truth of the statement transcends even her own meaning: we do not willingly choose failure, but our moments of testing and maturity will be determined by how we choose to deal with the failures that are inevitable. We might say that where there is failure, there is life; and it is failure in life, as in science, that will help us to redefine what success is, and what success can be. 
- The Good Life (Peter Gomes)
Although certainly not the first to say it, Ed Harris brought this phrase into pop culture when he was demanding the best of mission control to bring home Tom, Kevin and Bill.  

"We have never lost an American in space and we sure as hell aren't going to lose one on my watch.  Failure is not an option" - Ed Harris (Apollo 13)
Hot diggity damn! Let's do it for Ed.- This is Ed's demand of success.  He calls to inspire and to impart the ddefinition of option as: the power of choosing? How much more powerful does this phrase become? It isn't that failure is not an option because of Ed's insistence on success; that is, failure isn't one of the choices on the table so don't even consider it. Rather, failure isn't an option because failure is not something that we have the power to choose or, moreso the power to NOT choose.  Truth be, failure is inevitable. It must happen.  It will happen.  And it is most powerful when embraced.

Not only is it inevitable, but it is truly a necessity and it is a requirement for growth. Be thankful for it as it is from failure that we create new pathways and expand our true options.  Failure builds the texture in our lives that make it rich. It is only through failure that we can truly define what success. 

Unfortunately, we have developed a stigma around success and failure that prohibits us from accepting this paradigm. In general, I don't believe it is a lack of acceptance of failure by others, as I have found that most people are accepting and compassionate to others when they fail to achieve their goals and overall they honor the effort and intent. However, the rub lies within ourselves with our own failures. We don't let ourselves off the hook that easily. When you fall short, miss the goal, overshoot the deadline, or have to decide to stop because success seems unlikely, do you genuinely (be honest now) swell with pride because you gave it your all?  Don't get me wrong, commitment and effort are qualities that we do commend, even within ourselves, however they don't bring glory. Those qualities usually serve to justify that we aren't complete failures - delineating the difference between not achieving a goal and a definition of our own character.

We aren't born with this fear of failure, we develop it over the years. It is a learned condition. Generally, young teenagers (especially boys) hardly know failure and therefore aren't afraid of it. They often have a sense of invincibility, which is why they do some ridiculously stupid shit sometimes, but they step up to do that really stupid shit because they aren't afraid of failing. But as we age and as we have more experiences with failure and the self-inflicted shame associated with failure, those failures define parameters within which we operate.  They become limits that stake out our realm of possibilities, or at the very least, teach us to operate with care when broaching them.

As with most struggles, overcoming the fear of failure comes down to perspective. Let's take this ideal of winning every time as the measure of success and let's put a spin on it.  Rather than equating failure = bad and winning = good, rather than falling into the trap of defining ourselves and worth by our most recent success, rather than each goal being the top of it's own podium, let's look at these challenges as defining stepping stones that shape a single story; a succession of experiences and lessons that let us grow and transform into a stronger versions of ourselves. The wins and the losses are equally rich in this single story and create lessons to draw upon for all of the other experiences to come. These swings in the pendulum of life's challenges broaden us and make it all so much richer.  Plus, it gives you great material for dinner parties.

When asked about all of his unsuccessful attempts at making a light bulb work, Thomas Edison replied, "I have not failed a thousand times.  I have successfully discovered one thousand ways to NOT make a  light bulb." 

So, go on... fail.  Put yourself out there and fail big. Accept that it will happen and embrace it.  You'll be a better person for it.

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