Why Is Failure Not an Option?

How many times have you heard others say, “failure is not an option”?

Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. What you and they really mean is that failure is not an acceptable outcome to them in this situation.

white male golfer in white shorts, blue shirt, at point club hits the ball

Many times we face seemingly do-or-die situations – a positive outcome means we win the big pot of gold and public acclamation, a negative means we leave with nothing. But either way, we’re still who we really are, and those who believe in us, still believe in us.

If failure is truly not an option, than that means we will always succeed, no matter how difficult the task, how great the risk, or how little we have prepared ourselves for success.

The world doesn’t work that way, of course. Success only comes with effort. So in truth, failure is always a possibility, and therefore, while it may not be our choice to fail, failure is always an option.

Or to look at it another way, if we really are not permitted to fail, than we’d better not try at all.

There’s a lot of false thinking that goes into believing failure is not an option:

  • A mistake is never acceptable. If I make a mistake, then I am unacceptable.
  • Success is clear cut, absolute, and immediate.
  • It is not enough to try to do something, we can only succeed.
  • No matter the reason for a failure, it’s only an excuse for our personal shortcomings.

Rejecting failure as a part of progress is a learned mindset that does more to harm us than to help us. It is only by trying new things that we ever make progress towards the goal of realizing our full potential. It is inevitable that we will not always and immediately succeed.

Think about a newborn baby and how little she knows and how little she can do. Some newborns can barely suck or bring a fist to the mouth. It takes months to gain the muscle coordination to turn over, a year or longer to walk, two years to talk with a rudimentary vocabulary, and sometimes three to be reliably toilet trained. We are not designed to always encounter success our first time out, no matter what. We are meant to journey through successes and through failures.

As babies, we don’t know the concepts of success or failure. We only know the thrill of the challenge and our intense motivation to keep trying. Ever watch a toddler keep trying to walk even while his muscles quiver and he can hardly stay awake? He’s not saying to himself, “failure is not an option.”

Have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous or downright impossible? Stop and think about it for a minute or two, I’ll wait.

Did you think about it long enough to give yourself a good belly-laugh? Good. You needed it.

The truth is, we thrive on learning and achieving. We want to do new things. What changes as we grow up is that a false belief is instilled in us that we must always succeed, seemingly without effort, and certainly without admitting to any failures.

Now that you’ve recognized just how outrageous and preposterous is the idea that failure is not an option, you’re ready to eliminate this false thinking. Replace those four ridiculous ideas above with these four that celebrate making an effort to succeed.

The truth is:

  • Failure is a part of growing and learning.
  • It is just as hard to fail as it is to succeed.
  • By trying, we gain new experiences.
  • When we keep an open mind about our failures, we may find great success in an unexpected direction.

Life Is Honest, Open and True: Given the choice between never trying anything new and not being permitted to fail, choose risking failure every time. Chances are good that you’ll succeed, if not at first, then eventually. And whether you succeed or fail, you’ll have great experiences along the way.

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10 Comments

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10 Responses to Why Is Failure Not an Option?

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  7. I love taking apart some of those well-known clichés or phrases that we fall back upon–so often they are doing just what you describe, promoting an entirely false perception of the truth. What we need is a new word, a word that will replace all the negative connotations of “failure,” a word that will inspire and energize, a word that is almost synonymous with “new opportunity” and “growth.”

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