Failure is an Option
Rumiko and I have chuckled over recent advertising received for services as widely varied as financial planning to computer systems and internet web building. Must be just one guy out there doing all the advertising writing, because several different pitches all came with the same heavy super serious line – When Failure is Not an Option.
Isn’t that ridiculous? Who in the financial investment world can speak with a straight face about failure not being an option, when even America’s richest Warren Buffett has seen billions vaporized by the financial insanity of the last few months of 2008? Who in the computer world, which regards complete system crashes and virus-spawned destruction as routine and expectable, can honestly speak of no room for failure?
When Failure is Not an Option. Sounds so dramatic and imperative, doesn’t it, as though just by uttering those granite solid words, we can thankfully banish any probable worries about possible lack of success. Does it make me a cynic to state that the firmer a pitchperson speaks about what is inviolable and beyond challenge in the wildness of life in the marketplace, the more I suspect either an idiot or a conman?
Well of course failure has never been a cheerfully sought out “option” in my life, but sure enough, I have had to accept some failures along with my successes. It is possible that I have learned more about how to be stronger, cleverer, and more likely for success by examining what I did that allowed failure to happen, as opposed to learning from finding quick, lucky, and unpredictable success. How about you?
When I returned to America from Japan after living and studying ninjutsu there for the last part of the 1970s, I told my few American students at the time that I would agree to teach them under the condition that I would be permitted to make mistakes as I progressed through the learning ahead of me. I made them promise me, and they did. And predictably enough, when I was forced by failure to learn some valuable lesson in my 30s, many of those friends revoked in a self-justifying way their once upon a time quick agreement to my demand that I be given room to explore and grow. And then when I bounced back and advanced as a result of my newly earned dearly paid for knowledge, some friends told me they could never trust me again because I had tried something new and failed to generate success and I should have known better. By the way, you would not know those students to whom I now refer, because years ago they gave up their dojos and are no longer actively training.
Most of my successes could have been colossal humiliating failures. I went to Japan to talk the grandmaster of the ninja into accepting me into his personal home dojo with his other 12 students. Ridiculous! I returned to America to introduce a new view of martial arts that posted its values at 180 degrees opposite of what everyone up until then believed to be true about martial arts. Impossible! I set out to get Rumiko to marry me. No way! I decided to be a writer of books. Doomed to disappointment! I decided to raise children. I decided to study leadership as a disciple of an Asian king. I decided to authorize other people to present my teachings in their own schools outside my ownership control. I decided that what I had to teach, based on all I had studied under others, warranted its own distinct name and identity as To-Shin Do. All absurd impossibilities! Those are just a few of my gambles in which failure was not only a major 100% without a doubt top of the list option, but was way more likely to result than was success.
People who do not like me will accuse me of bragging here. That would be ignorant misreading of my words and purpose. Some day I will list my failures and what I learned from them, in case I am misperceived as gloating or showing off here, but for now I am sharing my experience of reality, and in my reality, the thought of failure not being an option is just ludicrous poser puffery. Come on. Be honest. Take a chance. Take a risk. Learn from the beatings you take and the coins that slip through your fingers. Possible failure is indeed one option.
Of course, without challenging the possibility of failure, you will be more likely to remain safe. On the other hand, just trying to be safe does not guarantee you will be safe. Without risking failure as an option, you will never have the momentum to move into new ideas, new realms of strength, new abilities to be of value to others, and fulfilled capacities for making a difference in the world.