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Content Strategy | Writing | Editing

Failure HAS to be an option

Jeffrey Williams


In Proust's view, we don't really learn anything properly until there is a problem, until we are in pain, until something fails to go as we hoped.

Source: "How Proust Can Change Your Life," by Alain de Botton


What David did for me on probably six occasions over two years, was step in when I was screwing up and encourage me to screw up more. 

Source: Seth Godin, interviewed in The Great Discontent


NASA has this phrase that they like: "Failure is not an option," but failure has to be an option in art and in exploration because it's a leap of faith, and no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. ... In whatever you're doing, failure is an option. But fear is not."

Source: James Cameron, TED

What is failure, anyway?

I worked at Amazon for two years. I won a companywide award. I saved the company millions of dollars. I was miserable. I had heart palpitations. My hair thinned. Did I fail or did I succeed?

I am divorced. My ex-wife and I are good friends. Our kids are imaginative, curious, engaged. Was the marriage a failure?

I've written a lot of poems no one has read. Does that make them failures? One of them won a national award. Does that make it a success?

If you don't risk failure, you'll never do brilliant work. 

So ... how do you deal with the fear Cameron talks about?

First, I think he's wrong. Fear is always with you. So what do you do? I think you have to question your thinking. Decouple worth from status. Stay curious and compassionate with yourself. Keep exploring. Look for new narratives of success.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us. 

From "When Things Fall Apart," by Pema Chodron