I saw a t-shirt at my daughters school today that a teacher helper was wearing that said “Failure is Not an Option”. And it bugged me. A lot. I do not believe in the line “failure is not an option” at face value in a general sense (unless it is my doctor doing surgery!). I fail a lot in my job and with projects I work on. And I try to learn from it so I do not do it again that way. That famous line about “people who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind. Do not get me wrong. I do not want people to fail just to see them fail. I want them to fail and not be afraid of it, because it will teach you something and show you how something does not work. You should not be afraid to fail. Just do not let that be the last step on your journey.
Fail a lot. Fail Forward. Fail Fast. Learn from it.
“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 have failed by default.” — J.K. Rowling”
You may have heard of her, J.K. Rowling? She came up with the Harry Potter series among other things. She tells a story at her Harvard commencement speech about failing at things. And about writing her book (which turned her into a billionaire in essence) where the 12 major publishing houses rejected it when she pitched it to them. About a marriage that ended early. About feeling “just above the poverty line” in the UK. She failed at a few things. She learned from it. She kept going. “Failure is not an option” in her sense meant do not give up. I get that. So let us say it that way.
Another guy, who goes by the name of Michael Jordan (to me, the best NBA player ever) was cut from his high school basketball the first time he tried out. MICHAEL FREAKING JORDAN! He failed. He learned from it. He picked himself up and adjusted and kept going. He has this quote below that has been reprinted in magazines and books and by people who quote him. More of a “failure is why I succeed”. Not “failure is not an option”.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan
You can see this type of thing over and over with successful accomplished people. Steve Jobs getting fired from Apple, the company he started! He came back and turned Apple into a powerhouse. You may have heard of or own an iPhone…yeah that company. Howard Schultz who ran Starbucks had a lot of people he approached turn him down on his Starbucks idea. You may have heard of Starbucks? And Thomas Edison who found 10,000 ways to NOT make the electric light bulb work. He failed quite a bit. However, as I read this with my lights on…I am reminded that he kept going.
Let’s Change the Mantra
I know some people may think I am splitting hairs on this phrase. Or that I am soft for talking about this because of the message on failure being a “motivator”. Or I am upset at a past failure overwhelming me.
I assure you none of that is true. And quite honestly, I do not care if you think that. I think we need to make sure people know they can fail. They should not stop at that failure, though. Fear of failure stops people from succeeding.
Do not just accept it, but learn from it and adjust and try something different. Or a variant on what they did with a little bit of a twist or change to it. I am an IT guy so I need to fail, fail often, and then learn from it and keep going to produce the right results for my partners, my customers and my users. However, this is not just an IT thing. It goes for my daughter in her soccer endeavors. It goes for my youngest daughter who is doing Girls Who Code and building the Lego Boost type of things. And it goes for my other daughter who works her butt off at school because she is slow on comprehension. She fails. It bugs her. But it does not get her down. She learns what does not work until she gets to what does work.
Failure is an option. And it is one that needs to be embraced because it teaches us well. “Experience is the best teacher” is another phrase I have heard often. And it has shown me to be true over my 40+ years. I do not fear failure. I fear not failing because then I am not doing something worth doing!
I hope this at least gets you to think about what you say. To others. To your children and family. And to yourself. Failures will teach you something for sure. Just look up some of the famous failures in the links below.
References on Failure to Learn From
10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On
Failure occurs everyday, in school, jobs, housework, and within families. It is unavoidable, irritating and causes…
21 Famous Failures Who Refused to Give Up
"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have…