On Leadership, Reality and Embracing Failure


“Failure is not an option.” How many times have you heard this in your life?

Perhaps it was from your high school football coach, your college adviser discussing potential PhD programs, or the lead actor of a Hollywood action flick getting ready to disarm the nuclear weapon and save the world?

This phrase is intended to motivate. It demonstrates tenacity and implies that failure is something so terrible one can’t even consider it.

But is this reality?

Getting Real

Think about it. Life is not a movie and nor are you the star quarterback on the football team. Life is not about singular events, but instead it unfolds as a continuum of choices with no defined conclusion.

Life is about the means and not the end.

“Failure is not an option” is a very dangerous phrase. It causes anxiety where there should be none. It implies that failing makes a failure. It creates a dystopic reality, where fear reigns supreme. This is the opposite of the good life.

If this mantra is swimming in your head, I would drain that swamp and fill it back up with something healthier.

From my experience:

  • Failure is the ONLY option
  • Failure educates
  • Failure creates new opportunities
  • Failure provides perspective and appreciation
  • Failure is meaningful

Real Life. Real Money.

Lucky SevenI once spoke with the head of a venture capital fund who claimed he doesn’t consider investing in an entrepreneur who had not failed at least seven times.

I can understand once, but seven times?

This VC’s thinking has netted him some pretty impressive results and when you step back and consider it, it makes a lot of sense.

He wanted the entrepreneur to fail with someone else’s money first (or for the seventh time), learn from it, and then take the cumulative knowledge from those failures and create a success with his money.

Real Flexibility

Failure also creates resiliency

As the old adage says, “It’s not failure that matters, it’s what you do next.”

If an entrepreneur is willing to stand back up and get back on the horse for the second, third, or seventh time, chances are she won’t buckle under the myriad of meaningless pressure that is applied on a daily basis.

But professional failure isn’t just reserved for entrepreneurship. I encourage failure amongst those who work for me and with me.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I encourage failure.

If people are consistently failing, then they’re not pushing themselves. A fear of failure creates laziness, boredom, and a distinct lack of productivity…which, consequently, is the real failure.

Real Performance

Get Back on the HorseWhen I say that I encourage failure, I’m not asking for people to perform poorly. Quite the contrary. I’m demanding that people perform extraordinarily. Trying not to fail is vastly different than trying to win. When people become defensive in the workplace it becomes about avoiding disappointment rather than exploring success.

I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret:

Businesses are not built on avoiding disappointment.

A fear of failure also creates some nasty byproducts, of which is a scarcity mentality. Stephen Covey famously describes this as “the zero-sum paradigm of life.

People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.”

A Real Shame

A fear of failure (and it’s close cousin “insecurity”) instill the need for survival and not the need for success. This survival mode creates the desire to avoid failure at all costs, to cheer and encourage others’ failures, and to generally loathe others’ success. I don’t have to explain how this damages not only the person, but everyone around him.

Just like an insidious disease, fear of failure is infectious and disastrous.

A Real Solution

So do the opposite. Don’t fear failure. Strive for success and not to avoid failure. Adopt an Abundance Mentality. Root for others’ success. Take risks and enjoy the results either way.

Life is a game of imperfection. By embracing failure, you make sure that you don’t become a failure.

So, how has a fear of failure impacted your world? Are you stifled by a fear of failure, or do you press through the pain (real or perceived) and continually move toward success? How have you mustered the courage to “get back on the horse” after a failure or two (or seven)? I would love to hear your story!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Brent Beshore
Brent Beshore is serial entrepreneur & owner of AdVentures (#28 on 2011 Inc. 500)

He blogs on Entrepreneurship & serves Startups, including a Digital Talent Agency
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

Image Sources: pictures.deadlycomputer.com, static.zoovy.com, news.bbc.co.uk

4 responses to “On Leadership, Reality and Embracing Failure

  1. This is such an important point Tom and so often overlooked. One of the processes I do with anyone about to set a new goal is to clean up the past failed goals, so they are able to move forward from a positive space.

    There is no failure, only feedback to give distinctions, strengthen and learn about the mistakes you now don’t have to make.

    I have a whole chapter and process for cleaning up old goals in my book Ready Set Goal! and it has got me more positive feedback since I wrote it in 2000, than anything else I have written. http://www.all-about-becoming-a-life-coach.com/how-to-set-goals.html


  2. I completely agree with this one. I have a basic belief which is essentially you won’t know someone’s true colors until they have failed miserably. Nothing refines character like true failure because the race isn’t over, the outcome isn’t determined, until you choose not to get back up.


  3. Pingback: Learning from Failure | UR Educational Leadership blog·

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