Failure is not an option.

There are at least two ways to interpret that statement:

1)      Failure is NOT an option.  Meaning failure isn’t acceptable

2)      Failure is not an OPTION.  Meaning failure is guaranteed

Let’s back up a bit here and define “failure”.  One definition of failure is “the condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends”.  In other words, not attaining a goal or outcome that you want.

What makes failure an issue for so many of us is what happens to us when we fail.  We make it about who we are instead of what we have done.  We tell ourselves that WE are a failure.  No good.  A loser.  So we feel shame.  For not doing better.  For not knowing better.  Or we get angry with ourselves for not being successful.  We hear the voices of so many people in our past (or present) saying:  “I told you so.  What were you thinking?  Why did you do that?  You should have known better.”

What if failing at something was the springboard for learning and personal growth instead of the crucible of shame and humiliation?  What if we were taught that failure is an EXPECTED step on the potholed road to success?

If you believe that failure isn’t acceptable and is avoidable, then find someone who has achieved success and ask them if they have ever failed.  After they pick themselves up off the floor from laughing so hard, ask them to tell you about their failure.

If Yoda had been teaching Luke Skywalker about failure, maybe he would have said, “Learn and grow or stagnate.  There is no failure.”  Generally the more spectacular the success, the more outstanding the failure(s) that preceded it.

I believe that the meaning of “Failure is not an OPTION” is that, if you’re in the game and living your life, then failure isn’t an “if” it’s a “when”.  It’s guaranteed that, if you’re on the road to success, no matter how much you plan or prepare, at some point you’ll miss your mark.

In one of my newsletters last year entitled “Ready, Fire, Aim” (Link here), I talked about how there are no straight lines to success.  The detours on the road to success?  We usually consider those to be our failures.

Here are some stats for you from the lineup of some very successful people you might know:

Henry Ford’s first five businesses failed before he launched the Ford Motor Company.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor who said that “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”  (Hmmm…)  Please delete:  Disney also started several businesses that eventually went bankrupt.

After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, he was told by the testing director at MGM “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”  (Hmmm…)

Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television THREE times.  (What if he had given up at that point?)

Before the Beatles became well-known, a recording company said, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out”.  (Now that’s funny.)

Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team?  He has said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  (Reread those last two sentences again and really digest them.)

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, was a single mother on welfare when she decided to take the plunge and write the stories she loved.   Many years later and after the great success of the Harry Potter series, Rowling gave the commencement address to the graduating class at Harvard University in 2008 entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”.

Here is a quote on failure from Rowling’s speech:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Click this link to Rowling’s commencement address if you’d like to hear it:  Harvard Magazine.  It’s funny and inspirational.

Thanks to many readers who inspired this newsletter with their questions and comments about fear of failure.  Here are two:  From Ted M. in Sydney, Australia:  “I feel stuck and unable to move forward in so many areas of my life.  I’m worried that, if I try something, I might fail.”  From Donna S. in Houston, Texas:  “I failed at a previous business endeavor and now have an opportunity to be involved in another project.  I have done my due diligence but I can’t seem to make a decision.”

If there’s something I can help you with, click this link ( to submit a question.