Celebrating the Thrilling Possibility of Failure

If you KNEW you could climb it, would you?


Earlier this week,  Rachel from ProNagger posed the question on Twitter:  (Finish this sentence) If I KNEW I couldn’t fail I would…..

I’ve seen this question used as a way to help us figure out our big, scary, exciting dreams.  The next step is to encourage you to ignore or accept the possibility of failure and try anyway.  Which, WOOT! I totally agree with. 

But what popped into my head in that moment was this:  @ProNagger If I KNEW I couldn’t fail, I would never need to bother trying.

Call me a contrarian.

But, really, if you knew for a fact that you’d win that race/get that job/win that person’s love/climb that mountain, how much of it would you actually be arsed to bother trying?  Isn’t it the possibility of failure that gets your heart pumping, your adrenaline flowing enough to get yourself off the couch to give it a go?

Maybe it’s just me.  But the thought of climbing Mt. Everest with the guarantee that I would make it to the top and back down again, alive, safe and with all my fingers and toes makes it look more like a lot of damned hard work and less like something that should be on my bucket list.

Applying for a job you know you already have?  Boring pointless annoying paperwork.

If I had known, the day I asked him out for lunch, that Alan and I would fall in love, get married and have a really great life together, I might have calmed down enough to actually finish university, rather than racing to the altar just to be sure.  (See, there were these other girls, circling.  I had no idea at the time they didn’t stand a chance).

If every act of unprotected heterosexual congress was guaranteed to result in a viable pregnancy, well, Xbox would be even more popular than it already is.

But we don’t know what’s going to happen.  There are no guarantees.  So even the most risk-averse among us take chances.  You get up in the morning and you face the day.  And sometimes you end up with twenty-seven years of happiness (and counting) and sometimes you end up with “I’m WHAT?”  And you never really know which it’s going to be.

I don’t know about you, but I love not knowing if I’m going to succeed at something.  I love the adventure of not knowing how it will turn out.  The delicious possibilities, the surprises and, yes, even the ‘Oh crap’ moments are what keep me moving forward. 

Alan and I have taken chances, started and ended businesses, uprooted ourselves to move somewhere else and try something new.  Some of these things have worked out brilliantly, some not so much.  But we love the adventure, the not knowing.  We’re always looking out for new, enticing possibilities.  They don’t have to be “Climb Mt. Everest” huge.  Starting a blog or a new friendship counts.  Getting your head around an idea that could be shot down in your next conversation counts, too.  I just think that, big or small, uncertainties are definitely worth celebrating.

But what about you?  Does knowing you could fail get you out there trying more or less?  Please leave a comment and let me know.  And have a lovely weekend, whatever you’ll be celebrating.

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15 Responses to Celebrating the Thrilling Possibility of Failure

  1. WOW….I mean WOW this hit me like a BOLT of lightening……I am in what I call my growthlife crisis ………it is hard but I know I will never be the same and I know that I will look back on this time……well……….what will be so cool…is when I look back I will hold this time close and respect the hell outta myself…..right now……it hurts a bit……….but not for nothin!! I resonated with what you said……I have a wonderful husband and he possessess all the things I wanted in a soul mate………I wrote down what I wanted and I got it……but when I was in that state of journaling and asking for him……I was MISERABLE………..if only I have known or better than known ….trusted he was coming……..believed more in my ability to create ….that time would have been a heck of lot more fun…and useful and I could have been present and CALMER…..being single…..my daughter moved out……my house was clean and my time being mine……but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I was restless, impatient, waiting and wanting him to hurry up and FIND ME…….I wish I would have played that differently…………….. sooooooooooo I am trying to look at this time…..the money issues the marital issues and the lack thinking…..as a time that I will look back on and see it as my launching pad…..my place where I woke up and learned the obstacles were opportunities…..oh I wish I would embrace that. Thank you for the article it was a nice mile marker to see that there are people of like mind and the journey and what it means…what it SHOULD mean…still working on that.

    Lisa Panella Herhuth

    • Barb says:

      Ah, yes, the hard times as times of learning. Why is it we can only realize that after we’ve passed through them? It would be so much easier if we could say “It’s OK. I’m learning things, I can be patient with myself”

      Thanks for checking in Lisa!

  2. Douglass says:

    I have to tell you, Barb, this resonates with the teacher guy in me. We seem to have raised almost an entire generation of kids incapable of failing and so incapable of taking chances, which means incapable of movement and growth.

    And more to the teacherly point, incapable of curiosity, since the start of curiosity is failing to understand, even if only for a moment.

    I see this in almost all of my students, to some degree. In so many, it is a state of paralysis — intellectual, creative, ethical — which is frightening to watch. And that is my answer to your question: as a teacher I know I can — and will, as often as not — fail with so many students, armoured against challenge and vulnerability as so many are. Which is the energy that keeps me trying.

    A willingness to fail is a gift we can share, making the work of failing and then keeping on, a collaborative effort.

    • Barb says:

      Wonderful, Douglass! Collaboration is the way forward.

      The paralysis in your students would be the result of Alan’s favourite law – The Law of Unintended Consequences. The parenting efforts that spared little ones the sick, sinking feeling of coming in dead last in a race by giving them a “Thanks for showing up” ribbon were all good-hearted, aiming to keep from destroying their spirits and self-esteem. But they didn’t see the destruction of curiosity and resulting creative paralysis.

      And, yes, it does come down to vulnerability, doesn’t. Vulnerability, which is almost a dirty word these days.

  3. heidi says:

    Well, this is a big topic. Lots of thoughts rollin’ around my noggin’! The first thing I thought of was a quote I’ve often heard, one that helps me overcome this niggling fear of inadequacy that holds me back from doing things: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” I found that quote refreshing, and funny, and freeing! Your sentiments reflect much the same thing.

    The second thing I thought is that I don’t like to fail. I don’t mind mistakes and blunders, as long as they’re not mine. Where you wrote: “I love not knowing if I’m going to succeed at something. I love the adventure of not knowing how it will turn out”, I feel anxious, sometimes, about my own limitations. I’m sure there’s some psychological explanation for this, like how high-achieving attitudes and successes were praised in my youth, etc. etc., but I am ever so practical and cautious about what’s most important to me.

    The third thing I thought of is that it’s not the possibility of failure that gets my heart pumping, but the possibility of success. I want to succeed, so I put it all out there. I try. I wonder. I imagine. I hope. I dream. I do fall flat on my face, sometimes, but I don’t usually celebrate that. Neither do I dig a hole, thankfully!

    Which leads me to a fourth thought: “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.” Mmmm. Still working on that too.

    Such great, BIG ideas, Barb!

  4. sandy says:

    it’s the thrill of the gamble… the less likely the thing is going to work, the bigger the payoff!

    fear of failure is a big issue with me. i can sometimes get around it with releasing the results to the universe; i do the best i can, then let it go.

    but when it works out, wow, what a high!

  5. Barb says:

    Of course, when you take a chance and fail, you don’t generally lose all your money and the house… The risks I recommend run on the succeed/fail axis, not succeed/lose everything.

    And even without that possibility, it’s still a great feeling when it all works out.

  6. Adila says:

    Heterosexual congress? Is that a political party? 😛

    Good post.

  7. Barb says:

    Tee hee! I was hoping someone would notice that phrase!

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  10. P.J. Monroe says:

    Thank you! I thought I was the only one. People scowl when I answer, “Nothing. What would be the point?”

  11. Val M says:

    And so, with my hearing defect in tow, I am heading to an island to teach a very small group of students, not entirely sure that this is the solution that will enable me to continue teaching, not entirely sure about my accommodations, not entirely sure about living such a secluded life. There is a good deal of excitement generated from not being entirely sure.

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