Failure is not an option

What am I supposed to think when I, and many others, are telling our kids that to fail means there’s a learning experience, something to embrace and not fear, but we hear phrases like ‘failure is not an option’?

What about as adults, when starting something new or different? When the unknown is ahead of you you need the confidence to start the unknown unknown … and you will no doubt make some mistakes on the journey. But you hear ‘failure is not an option’ in either a meeting or the voice in your head that’s trying to drag you down.

Often misassociated with the US space agency from the 1960s Apollo moon missions, the phrase ‘failure is not an option’ was actually first said in the Hollywood blockbuster Apollo 13 (about the aborted moon mission).

Understandably in that situation, one of literally life or death decisions, ‘failure’ cannot be in the vocabulary or future.

But in many instances, the phrase conveys entirely the wrong message. Often viewed as an antonym to success, failure has an outsized position in society. Far from being celebrated, the risk of failure becomes a deterrent to action. The emphasis is too often on all the reasons why not to do something, leading people to retreat to the safety of a cautious and familiar mindset.

Peter Farnsworth

The fear of letting colleagues, friends, or family down through ‘failure’ can be debilitating, freezing you in place and preventing you from thinking clearly. Practice, over many years (from our childhood?) will make this a (more) familiar situation and, possibly, capable of knowing and understanding the emotions of the fear

Learning to think beyond and to think positively about the situation is a skill many need, but few have. I know I’m still on this journey.

The coach or leader who espouses a “failure is not an option” philosophy is the same one who has players or employees “playing scared” and thinking small, desperately avoiding “failure” rather than asking “what if” and stretching and striving.

Peter Farnsworth

Being able to breathe and try things, experiment, or do what’s necessary to get something done, is a skill that is overlooked. I know it’s hard, it’s also hard to encourage someone else to take the risk (try telling your 14yo son it’s OK to get it wrong), but it’s important that each of us know this about ourselves – that it’s OK to try, it’s OK to not know everything, and it’s OK to get it wrong sometimes. No, you may not know when it’ll be wrong, but that’s the key to learning about what’s right or what works.

To try.

Photo by marc liu on Unsplash