Sunday, July 1

Why failure needs to be an option

When I think of failure, I think of Willy Loman.  Not so much because Willy was a failure himself, but because he does not allow himself to acknowledge any shortcomings and does not seem to know how to learn from failures in his life.  In other words, he allows himself to be defined by what he did rather than who he is and could be.  It's not that simple, of course.  His family, the time in which he lived, and more contributed to the character who was Willy Loman.

But let's think about this word "failure."  The phrase "Failure is not an option" was immortalized by the film, Apollo 13 and continued to build momentum, including in books like Gene Kranz's Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond.

Failure has a terrible connotation. It is the opposite of success and we know how much our culture values whatever it seems to perceive as "success."  Money? Power? Position?  I suspect we have a skewed view of failure because we have such a warped view of success.

One of my favorite quotes is by Booker T. Washington, whose life story is also inspirational, no matter one's color or gender.  Mr. Washington said: "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed."

That sounds to me like moving beyond what others might call failure.  Consider these quotes by two men who knew a lot about success and about failure:
     "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."  Winston Churchill
     "Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts. " John Wooden

So we can stay completely and absolutely in a comfort zone and never risk either success or failure.  Or we can take risks.  Because it is through both success and failure we can learn and we can grow in so many ways through learning.

Life can equal risk.  What we do with our opportunities is up to us.

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