Monday, November 23, 2009

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I saw this question on another blog quite a while ago, and I have to say that at the time, it annoyed the heck out of me. I'd play the freakin' lottery. I'd audition for So You Think You Can Dance. I'd do tons of things that are completely out of my reach and that would be terrible, stupid, guaranteed-waste-of-time-and-money gambles based on the truths of the real world. The question, then, teaches me nothing.

And even if I respond in a broader, less sarcastic manner to the question -- clearly it is intended to be about challenging your sense of what you can accomplish and following your dreams -- what about the time element? I will surely make different decisions if success will be immediate... or within the next five years... or sometime just before I die. Gosh, if I knew I could not fail, I'd write a book and try to get it published. How long does that usually take, again? How many people quit their jobs or move to NYC to follow their creative dreams, only to run out of money before they meet with sufficient success?

And so the question annoyed me. It's supposed to be inspirational, but it just struck me as naive, and somewhat critical of those of us who are trying to make informed, balanced choices about what we want in conjunction with what will pay the bills. Yeah, if I knew I could not fail I'd do lots of daring things, but MY ODDS ARE LOW and I HAVE A FAMILY so I can't bloody well just risk it all.

Furthermore, I felt that I was doing everything I would want to do, and I was failing plenty, thankyouverymuch. If I knew I could not fail, I would apply for a job with [redacted]... and the day I read this question was also the day I found out that I wasn't even considered for the job at [redacted], even though I think I am exceptionally well-qualified for the position by every measurable standard, and I would have been incredibly good at the job. I did try. I did get very creative and proactive about my approach, championing myself far more than I am usually comfortable doing, and getting advice from friends and networking connections to make sure I was doing everything right. I tried like failure was not an option. And I got exactly the same results as if I hadn't tried at all.

But I'm not the only one who sometimes feels like she's just spinning her wheels. We're all in this together, right? Time to woman-up.

And I think I've found one more thing to try for. Something that really does fall into an aspirational-yet-potentially-achievable category that is just perfect for a "try like you could not fail" attitude. Because it's not just about trying a single thing once and that was your one shot. It's a process.

Let's see if I can try something new.


  1. I agree, it was intended to be inspirational and everyone finds inspiration in different forms.

    The overall thinking with every individual should be never give up, keep pressing. None of us know what the end is going to be.

  2. I have always found that if I persist in striving to reach a dream, I may not exactly reach what I had fantasized about, but I eventually reach something along the lines of what I was dreaming. From the things I've read from you, you certainly have the persistance and charisma to achieve what you aim for eventually.

  3. I admit that very statement got me writing my first book. ANd finish that book without fail I did, but I suppose what I really was after was publication. I really need to be more specific when I answer questions like that ;)

  4. i like the quote.

    However i would totally abuse it - for starters i'd jump off a building with the intention to fly. I can't fail, right?

    that would be an awesome super power.

  5. I'd run for President! Wait, no. I'd win a gold medal at the Olympics!

    I don't really have a problem with trying like I can't fail. In fact, I frequently need a dose of reality.

  6. I would keep on writing and doing what I am doing now.I wouldn't mind making a living at it. :) I think the key is, to be sure you are doing what you love some how, some way, every day.

  7. Oh boy, how I agree with you. Sometimes I have to look at all the "advice" and "inspiration" out there and say, "Well, that's good, BUT...I have bills to pay, a daughter to care for, responsibilities..."

    I guess, again, it's a matter of balance, of having that inspiring attitude and balancing it out with reality.

  8. HAHA... I love it. I'm the same way. I see a quote like that and inevitably think of all the harebrained schemes that I'd undertake with that kind of knowledge, but reality just doesn't work like that.

  9. I agree that the question is a little annoying. For me the question should be, "What would you do if you had more money?"

    I have so many crazy ideas, none of which I am afraid to try, but I spend a great deal of time and energy earning a living.

  10. There are definitely faultlines in that quote, and for me the annoying part is feeling manipulated by it. But I can see two merit points: 1) it gets someone to look in the back of the closet for something they've shelved as impossible long ago and really ought to try. 2)it gooses someone who NEVER tries to venture out.
    I have the feeling, though, that the people who read and comment on a blog like this are already in it for the long-haul, the process, as you aptly put it.

  11. Sorry you found the quote annoying. Pretty sure it was my blog that posted it. In fact, I know I did a post on it.
    I guess my point was that we sometimes live in boxes limited by fear of failure. And sometimes if you can remove that fear you might step outside the box for just long enough to actually embrace the things you really want in this life. Sure, I'd play lottery, run for president etc. But the truth is that NONE of those things are actually things I really truly desire. And it is not fear of failure that holds me back from those things either. I don't buy lottery tickets or running for government because they aren't things I actually want with a passion. Sure, money and power would be great, but I am not pursuing it. What I really truly desire IS something I might be able to achieve if I am brave enough to chase it.

    I agree we can't risk everything, but I think to many of us live on the safe side of risk and end up with regrets because we never really chased the things that we REALLY wanted. That quote got me to look at the fact that I actually wanted to write. And the wonderful paying teaching job that I had was great, but not fulfilling one of my deepest desires. I kept the job, but I also opened the door on something I had long pushed down and forgotten.

    Interestingly enough when people answered that question on my blog no one put down that they would run for president or buy lottery tickets. They did however admit some pretty achievable dreams, even if some of those dreams would have to wait a while before being pursed. The quote wasn't meant to manipulate or make anyone feel bad. I just posted on it cause I know how amazing it was for to to say, "wow, yeah there is something else I want to be doing and I am letting my fear stop me." Writing is not the only thing that many of us dream of doing. It isn't even the biggest thing that some of us dream of doing. But whatever the dreams, fear of failure is a massive stumbling block.

    And I think you can say that you have not failed in something if you view success as the ATTEMPT, the brave choice to chase the dream in the first place. At least you can say you tried. At least that will be one less, "What if?" question that you have to live with. I think that spells success.

  12. lol,I've done most everything I wanted to do. The only thing I would try if guaranteed not to fail, would be skydiving!

  13. quite frankly, it annoys me too. It goes against my nature not to think I might fail. It's why I'm competitive I do believe. And I wouldn't not want to be competitive.


  14. I like the question.

    Who cares about trying out for So You Think You Can Dance unless you truly love dancing? Do you? I'm not sure I see why the question annoyed you so much. Why would you waste time trying out for So You Think You Can Dance if you don't care about it? Or buying lottery tickets unless you are super passionate about money.

    If I wasn't afraid of failure, I'd quite my job and chase after writing 100%. The point of the question isn't to encourage me to actually quit my job, but to realize this is my passion and I should do something about it.

  15. OK so the quote isn't a winner. Maybe a better one would be "fight like a demon for your dreams". We try stuff, sometimes we fail, and there are things no one wants to sacrafice, no matter what... but we can still fight for what we want.

    Actually there's a line from Braveheart (hopefully I'm notthe only one that remembers that movie: "We don;t have to win, we just have to fight."

    The quote about what would you try if you knew you couldn't fail is, I think, meant to remind us that if we don't try anything, we've already lost.