“Failure is not an option”…Really?
What does this phrase, “Failure is not an option,” mean to you? Do you agree with it? Disagree? Do you think it is a good guiding principle to live by?
Actually for all you history aficionados, this phrase “Failure is not an option,” is the title of a book by Gene Krantz, the NASA Flight Director, who directed the successful Mission Control team efforts to save the crew of Apollo 13. This later became a major motion picture of the same name. If you want to know more about that, you can go search the Wikipedia.
However, for our context today, this phrase, “failure is not an option” is about the concept that failing is a bad thing. Is it? Well, since I am asking this question, the obvious answer is probably not the correct answer. Right? Let me ask you another question. When I mention the word “failure”, what emotion does it bring up? Is it a positive, feel-good emotion? Or is it a sense of dread or foreboding? No one wants to fail. No one prepares to fail. You may dread it but you don’t prepare to fail. So, it is a “bad thing”….to a certain extent. You don’t want to be always failing in school. However, just like everything in life, when taken to an extreme, it can be destructive.
So, let’s first define failure. This is a little difficult, as failure means different things to different people. The dictionary definition of failure is “an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success”. For most people, failing an exam is failure. Not reaching a goal is a failure. For example, if you wanted to lose 20 lbs and did not lose even 1, that would generally be considered a failure.
As a physician, it is my job to get to the root cause of my patients’ various ailments. I have found that stress plays a big role in causing patients to become sick. And in many instances, stress is caused in part by an underlying fear. The fear of failure, of not being good enough. This is usually reinforced by having actually failed in achieving some long-sought-after goal. And the fear of failing again stops a lot of them from pursuing the goal that they would like to achieve. And so they settle for a life they do not enjoy.
However, if we go beyond the dictionary definition, failure is actually NOT an instance of failing, or of becoming unsuccessful. Actual failure is when, after having failed, you do not get back up again. Falling down, or failing an exam, or not achieving a goal…these are not failures.
Admitting defeat is. Failing to get back up after falling, is.
The famous general George Patton said, “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”
Everyone will fail at something, sometime in their life. But giving up because you failed…that is the ultimate failure. All advancements in any field have occurred because people did not admit defeat after failing at something.
Have you failed at something? Did you become disillusioned after not achieving something you really wanted? Have you ever said….I am not cut out for this or that? Maybe you are or maybe you aren’t. And I don’t mean to imply that you should be doggedly pushing forth in everything you do. It is possible that you are not meant to be doing something you might really wish. However, my point is that a lot of times, we might be giving up too easily. If it is worth having, then it is worth fighting for.
I too have experienced failure in my life. My life has not gone the way I envisioned. I have had my share of “Why me?” moments. I have experienced tremendous financial setbacks. I have lost close friendships. I have had instances of falling where I almost did not get back up again. Almost…!
I have been fortunate to have had good life instructors. One of them was my father who taught me never to give up. He used to tell me that there is a lesson in every so-called mishap. Life’s greatest lessons are in its biggest failures. We need to have faith and trust. Faith in the fact that things will always work out in the end; trust in yourself and your instincts. And I listened. They were not easy lessons to learn, to be sure. But I have become a wiser man because of all the failures and successes in my life.
In fact, I learnt that success usually starts with failure. Most of us are not lucky enough to become successful at everything we do the first time. Success comes from learning from our mistakes and relaunching our efforts armed with enhanced knowledge and more experience. Learning how NOT to do it as valuable as learning how to do it.
How do we normally react to failure? When we fail, what part of us feels it the most? It is our ego. This is where our ego becomes our worst enemy. Unfortunately, society does not reward failure, so we don’t learn how to handle failure. Many of us learn the wrong lesson and we limit our dreams of success because we are afraid of failure. We accept a life of mediocrity because going for the success we want becomes too daunting an enterprise. Why do you think stress is so common? Stress happens when things are not going the way we want. Part of mastering stress is learning how to deal with failure.
If we want to succeed big, we must be prepared to fall big. We need to step outside of our comfort zone. Growth does not happen inside our comfort zone. We have to step beyond that, into the zone of uncertainty. The risks are big, but so are the rewards.
So, let’s become friends with failure. In fact, if we want to be successful, it is imperative that we become friends with failure. You may actually have to change some of your friends. Look around you. Who do you hang out with? Will they support your failures and encourage you, or discourage you from your path? Are you willing to discuss your dreams with them or are you afraid of their response? Let’s surround ourselves with people who will lift us up and help us achieve our goal. Don’t let fear of failure stop you.
Are you willing to fail? The answer better be yes.
Until next time