Failure to try is to guarantee failure by default.
There exists in the human psyche what some believe is a genetic, almost primordial drive in Americans to “be one’s own boss.” In fact, it can be argued that the desire to “be our own bosses” is what triggered the American Revolution.
This drive, this self-actuating desire, manifests itself in American society as an entrepreneurial spirit best described as the American Dream. In no other culture or country in the world has such a broad base of its population exhibited this longing to achieve individual freedom via the route of entrepreneurism. It was the embodiment of this ambition that served as both foundation and fuel for the American economic miracle.
That was then, this is now
Unfortunately, in the American society of today, dreaming of success inevitably invites a chorus of naysayers. They see the American tradition of “dream chasing” as passé. They believe that everything that should be done has been done. And since this is true, those who chase their dreams are, ispo facto, a threat to those who cherish the status quo.
Perhaps that’s why there seems to be a nascent consensus to suppress, rather than support the individual’s dream of success. Just look at the demoralizing gauntlet the dreamer must run to realize success. Negative pressures, disheartening influences, outright skepticism and threats of recrimination for failure. They’re all designed to discourage one from even trying. Dreamers who face these seemingly irreconcilable influences often wilt amid the resulting conflict, confusion and insecurity. Indeed, the impediments can become so overwhelming that the very idea of making the effort to achieve success is blunted. William Shakespeare noted that self-defeatism when he wrote (in Measure for Measure) “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
The most significant impediment to following one’s dream of success is, without question, the specter of failure, and especially, how the naysayers might view one’s failure. Failure is positioned as the penalty lurking at the end, to be assessed when success is not achieved. Failure is depicted as the equivalent of a celestial black hole that sucks in failed dreams and destroys any hope for the future. The dreamer not only says “I have failed,” but far worse, he or she may be convinced by others to believe, “I am a failure.” Threatened by this bleak scenario, most fail to try to achieve their dreams, because they have more fear of failure than a passion for success.
Taking Responsibility for the Dream
But failure is a phony issue. Failure is like the schoolyard bully: it has the power to define how we act—only if we allow it to. Sure, failure exists and it can be painful, but what many do not realize is that the benefits of success far outweigh the penalties of failure. There is another way to look at the concept of failure: Who do you think feels worst about themselves? Those who failed trying or those who failed to try?
Some use the fear of failure as a motivator for success, but the best way to defuse the impact of failure is to view it as something that can happen at the start of the path to success, not the end. Failure can actually be turned into a positive when it is viewed as a tool to signal that you are not on the right path to success, not as a signal that success cannot be achieved. When failure is viewed from this perspective, it becomes a motivator to keep trying, not to quit. The truth is that if you are not risking failure, you are not trying hard enough.
We all know the names Henry Ford, R. H. Macy, H.R. “Colonel” Sanders, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson and Bill Gates. These diverse individuals – and thousands like them – toiled in different fields of creative activity and each had their own definition of success. But they all shared one thing in common: They were all abysmal serial failures before they became successful dream catchers that we know and revere. The irony is that their initial failures not only failed to dissuade them from their dreams, but clarified the goal and added fuel to the fire to achieve it. It is a great lesson to learn.
Another reason why failure has such a foreboding feeling for many is because they fail to understand the difference between a dream and a fantasy. A dream is something that can be made to happen, while a fantasy is something that can only be wished for. Chasing a dream is a risk; trying to achieve a fantasy is a gamble. The difference between those who fail and later succeed and those who fail and flounder is an understanding of the difference between a dream and a fantasy. A risk can be managed, but not so a gamble. If it is success you seek, the most important step is the first step and that is to make an honest determination as to whether your definition of success is a dream or a fantasy.
There are a number of ways to do this, but they all come in the form of questions:
- Does what you seek to offer differentiate you from the competition?
- Are you seeking to create something new or copy the old?
- Do you understand the risks inherent in the effort or are you oblivious to them? (Only risks that are recognized can by mitigated and overcome.)
- Is there a need that is not being met or maybe not even recognized?
- Are you willing to share success, but accept responsibility for failure?
- Do you have a specific, clear vision of what you seek to achieve, that can be communicated and understood by others?
- Are you more passionate about what you will achieve than what you will receive?
Recognizing the intent of these questions and answering them honestly will either confirm the potential of your dream or force you to recognize a fantasy for what it is. Recognizing the difference between a dream and a fantasy will not guarantee success – success can never be guaranteed – but it will help you formulate a plan that will increase your opportunity for success. No one can dream for more than that.
And the Moral of the Story …
So you have a dream for success. Make sure it’s your mind and not your heart that is dreaming and when you do, chase that dream with all your heart. Failure to do so is the ultimate failure.
No matter what happens, you will always be happier having tried and failed, than you will ever be having failed to try.