We, humans, are fascinating beings. We show mesmerizing courage in the face of some of the most incredible challenges in life, and yet, we can be easily stopped by a simple emotion such as fear of failure. We do realize, logically, that failure to fail in life stands in the way of us executing on our full potential. And yet we allow someone else’s definition of success or a fear of being judged consume us and prevent us from realizing our dreams.
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Unfortunately, just before you take your first step on the righteous journey to pursue your dreams, people around you, even the ones who deeply care for you, will give you awful advice. It’s not because they have evil intentions. It’s because they don’t understand the big picture – what your dreams, passions, and life goals mean to you. They don’t understand that, to you, the reward is worth the risk. We were afraid to introduce this project to our circle of people because we have been blessed in so many ways by their presence and treasures. Fear of what they may think and fear of not being accepted or getting buy-in from our circle is pounding at our peace. We are wondering is this really what we should be doing publicizing our position in life and looking foolish because we have a passion to help human being just like us.
There are so many other causes that have momentum and support that makes us wonder if our dream is reasonable. We see campaigns for animals with a much larger launch pad than ours and we get frustrated at our-self pondering whether we are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, just before you take your first step on the righteous journey to pursue your dreams, people around you, even the ones who deeply care for you, will give you awful advice. It’s not because they have evil intentions. It’s because they don’t understand the big picture – what your dreams, passions, and life goals mean to you. They don’t understand that, to you, the reward is worth the risk.
So they try to protect you by shielding you from the possibility of failure, which, in effect, also shields you from the possibility of making your dreams a reality.
As our friend Steve Jobs says:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Everyday in America, thousands of ex-offenders suffer from cruelty and neglect while in prison or jails. However, thousands were released last year into society, with no money, no job, no home, no hope. The words used in this statement came from the animal campaign and commercial used to raise money from abused animals, they go on to say “Thousands were rescued last year, But for thousands of others help came to late”.
An executive was on his way to see the CEO. All kinds of thoughts were going through his mind. What went wrong? Why did this project fail? What did he miss? He was entrusted with a multi-million dollar project. Everyone knew it was a risk… everything new that hasn’t been tried before usually is. But it was a bold move, which, if worked, could really pay off. What now? Standing in front of his boss, he extended his hand with the letter of resignation. The CEO looked surprised, then slightly irritated. “You cannot be serious,” he said. “I just paid 2 million dollars for all of us to learn a valuable lesson. Now let’s go apply that knowledge and get us on the right path!”
Positive outcome. Great leadership too, wouldn’t you say? But it’s the fear of the opposite outcome that usually stops us from truly innovating, from not holding back.
FAILURE. Scary word, isn’t it?
Recently I radically changed my career. I have worked for Fortune 500 brands most of my professional career and earlier this year I took on a role of leading a start-up. And this question of failure came rushing back into my life. I was excited out of my mind with the possibilities. I never much doubted my abilities to get stuff done, especially when I am passionate about something. But there are always defining moments in your life that, no matter how confident you are, make you ask “But what if I fail?” I happened to ask it out loud in a conversation with a friend. A question to which he replied: “What is failure?”
This question always fascinated me.
John Lennon tells a story about when he was in school and his teacher gave the class the assignment to write down what the kids wanted to be when they grew up. He wrote down “happy.” The teacher told him he didn’t understand the assignment to which he retorted that they don’t understand life. Maybe some of us just don’t understand the assignment? Or life?
Like I said, the question always fascinated me. So I talked to people about it, trying to understand what failure meant to them, what role it played in their lives. While writing about business innovation and the struggles associated with training for ex-offenders I asked my interviewees that question yet again. And yet again when I thought hard about changing my professional path.
And what I found was profoundly simple. Our definition of failure, and our path in life, is shaped by three things: Passion, Purpose, and Attitude.
Our passion shapes our purpose. We are all created to make an impact and our passions define us, mold us into who we are. Once a person knows her true purpose there is no stopping her. Purpose gives us confidence, makes us fearless. Having meaning in your life is one of the most powerful forces a human being can be driven by.
And those two in combination – passion and purpose – affect your attitude. When you know who you are and what you want to achieve, your attitude shifts. It makes you sure, unstoppable. At that point you know no failure, you accept no failure but the path that gets you to your goal. You don’t sit around fearing failure, you are forging the path forward even through mistakes along the way. Are there times when you are frustrated by your trials and errors? Absolutely. Are there times when taking a wrong path sets you back. Yes! But you keep on going, doing what truly matters to you.
And that is what’s intriguing. When your passion and purpose collide, they become a strong aphrodisiac. And that is when failure becomes non-existent.
Consider this number. 5,126. That is the number of prototypes it took JamesDyson to successfully create a bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson created a fail-less environment in his company. He challenges all his staff, especially his engineers, to be naïve, curious, downright silly. He invites them to challenge conventional wisdom, turn what we know on its head, explore what at the first glance seems impossible. One of Dyson’s bestselling products, Airblade dryer, was created while working on a totally unrelated product and trying out crazy ideas.
It took Steve Jobs nine years of investing in Pixar to make the world see how amazing computer animation can be. As a matter of fact, he attributes his being fired from Apple as one of the best things that happened to him and a reason he succeed as Apple’s CEO later in life.
Flicker was supposed to be a gaming company. They failed at that miserably, but noticed that photo-sharing among their community is rather high, so they shifted gears and we now know Flickr as one of the most popular photo-sharing sites.
And what about individuals? Well, let’s see:
- Henry Ford went broke five times before he finally succeeded.
- Beethoven was proclaimed by his teacher as hopeless as a composer.
- Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor for lack of ideas and creativity. Disney went bankrupt several times before it succeeded as a company.
- Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was seven. His teacher described him as “mentally slow.”
- The Beatles were rejected by many music labels.
- Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
- Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.
- Marilyn Monroe was told by a producer that she was “unattractive” and could not act.
And if you think that you are not Marilyn Monroe or Walt Disney, you may be right. But I know every single one of you is passionate about something, no matter how small it may seem in comparison with someone else’s passion or achievement. You matter to somebody. You are someone’s inspiration, someone hope. And if you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.
Doubts kill more dreams that failure ever will. When we are kids, we were able to create, imagine, dream with no limits. We don’t doubt ourselves or our purpose. But when we get older, we are taught about responsibility and that maybe becoming an artist isn’t exactly a “safe and secure” profession. We move away from our passions and tell ourselves that it’s just a part of growing up. It is reality, we tell ourselves. But in reality, multiple studies showed that people who followed their hearts and led with purpose were way more likely to become independently wealthy vs. those who followed money and security.
Michael Jordan once 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.”
We need to define what failure means to us. As a matter of fact, we need to take the definition that was given to us by someone else and rip it up. And maybe you end up figuring out that that word doesn’t even exist and it’s just a series of small mistakes you make on the way to living your purpose. I encourage all of us to rip up what somebody else said we should be, think, do, and feel and throw it out.
And don’t doubt yourself. Heck, if you are going to doubt something, doubt your limits. Don’t settle. Find your passion, live your purpose, ignite a movement. Trust in who you are and walk the journey that is only yours. After all, if you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs. True failure is to not try at all. So I encourage you to let go of the fear and dare to fail, because you just might fail your way to amazing things.