Failure Has To Be An Option

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I’ve always been entrepreneurial. In high school, I never had a real job. I did drop-shipping (buying goods from a manufacturer and reselling them to consumers) back in 2005 before it was ever thing. Of course, I didn’t call it that or even know what in the world I was doing. I bought electronic goods from (a deal of the day website) and then sold them on eBay or to friends and family. I remember getting an amazing deal on 16GB flash drives, which was a ton of storage for a flash drive back then – remember those? I bought a dozen and sold them for almost double what I paid for them. I didn’t need much money in high school – just enough to go to Taco Bell, pay for gas in my 1995 Buick LeSabre, and a little poker money to play with friends.

While I’ve always loved starting and building things, I have also been pretty risk averse. I didn’t want to fail. “Failure is not an option” was one of my dad’s favorite quotes from the movie Apollo 13. We grew up hearing that. It was mostly used sarcastically in situations where it didn’t quite apply and alternatively as a motivational mantra to push us to do our best in school and sports, but nonetheless, that quote sticks out when I reflect on my childhood. Here’s the thing I’ve learned (through failure), though:

Failure HAS to be an option.

Now, to be fair, in the case of Apollo 13, it wasn’t an option. It was either failure or death. In a life or death situation, you don’t want it to be an option. When it comes to career pursuits, dealing with money, pursuing the man or woman of your dreams, and a few other cases; it most certainly is and should be a viable option.

One of my biggest “failures”

Around three and a half years ago, I finally released my entrepreneurial spirit and naivety from its cage to go wild. I designed and eventually built a team for an app called, “Pushpic.” It took five of us almost two years to finally realize that what we were building the world did not need, or for that matter, even understand. But, I was obsessed with it. I worked on it day and night and it often kept me up at night while I was dreaming of what it could become and how I could make it better. I was foolish, and I was stupid. A part of me feels like I wasted a lot of time on it. I never made any money from it, yet at times, it was all I was working on. Our team raised over $100k, poured in hundreds of hours of arguing and laughing about what we were building, only to develop something that ultimately went nowhere. I failed quite publicly because I was always on social media promoting it and in person talking to family, friends, and even strangers about it. When it came time to call it quits, I was afraid of what all those people might think. My failure was big, public, and quite time-consuming. Yet, if I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

You are going to fail anyway

Have you ever failed at something? Of course you have. You are human. Every single one of us fails. Often and regularly. A lot of us spend absorbent amounts of energy trying to avoid failure, though. What a waste! For the little fails like overcooking the ramen, we quickly forgive ourselves and eat it anyway, but we strive to avoid the big fails. We love to forget about them and work hard to hide them from the world. Here’s the thing; when you hide your failure or move on too quickly from it, you fail twice as hard.

Why? Because Failure is crucial to our improvement in life.

If we only ever did the things we currently know how to do, we would all still be pooping in diapers. In our careers, a lot of us would still be working entry-level, fast food jobs or trying to fold clothes in a dark room (a nod to my friends in high school that worked at Hollister). The fear that comes from failure is often derived from our lack of exposure to something new. It makes sense, really. I’ll assume you know how to ride a bike. Now think about saddling up for a quick stroll. Not that scary, right? “Easy, and sounds kind of nice, Lance.” Now try to remember the first time when you didn’t know how to ride. It was scary. You could tell by looking at it that if you fell over, you might hit your head or scrape your skin. You could visualize the consequences of failing, so it made getting on the seat scary. Not to mention, you probably had someone helping you who constantly reminded you of the consequences and dangers. Nonetheless, you probably, eventually learned. (If you didn’t, this is awkward.)

Failure is the fast track to making improvements in life

Failure often happens when you attempt to do what you have not yet experienced, and therefore lack confidence in doing, and do it anyway (read that a couple times if it doesn’t sink in). You may do something with a high risk of failure, but at least you do it and that is the fastest way to learn and a great way to experience something new. Sometimes you’ve got to be reckless and just hop up on the bike and be willing to experience falling off so you can eventually, maybe, someday experience the headwind of a smooth downhill ride on a brisk, Fall, leaf-covered path.

In my experience, there are two ways to fail: successfully or unsuccessfully.

Failing successfully means:

  • not letting those scrapes and bruises keep you from getting back on the bike
  • learning about what went wrong and making the proper adjustment for next time
  • not being afraid to tell people what you experienced
  • you wear your failure as a badge of honor
  • you chew on what you learned and are continuing to digest it every day
  • you don’t hide your failure, and you certainly don’t let it hold you back from going at it again

Failing unsuccessfully means just the opposite:

  • you failed and you let fear take hold and cripple you from ever getting back up
  • you try to forget it, and don’t tell anyone about it
  • you don’t take the time to dwell on all the good that happened throughout the experience
  • you dwell on the outcome (failure) and not the journey (what life was teaching you for next time)

Fear and foolishness is another friend to have fun with

(the title above is stolen from my dad)

Working on Pushpic was fun. It failed hard, but I can confidently say it was fun because looking back now, I learned so much so fast. It was worth 10 of my $25,000 student loans that I racked up while earning a college degree that I am not utilizing the direct benefits of. Today, I know that I owe my success to one of my biggest failures. Frankly, it was because I was little foolish and didn’t know what to fear. But if foolishness is what you want to call attempting to experience all life has for you to experience, then I’m the biggest fool there is.