I don’t know anyone who loves to fail. They exist, sure. But I think we tend to call those people defeatists, or fatalists, or something else that invokes a depressive notion. The hard reality is that failure waits out there for all of us, like a prowling lion that stalks the spaces between where we are and where we want to be.
Every day I open my twitter stream or dig into my news feeds I’m presented with one or two more additions to the world of start-ups and new ventures. Kickstarter, angel investors, web apps and writers are constantly, continuously releasing new ideas, new products, new works of art. And this is a fantastic thing (for the most part).
The piece we all miss when we read about these new creations, however, is that they were born amidst great risk of failure. The funds might not have arrived, or the customers might not have lined up. Readers might not have purchased enough copies to push it up the bestseller lists. Success sometimes appears to be akin to dodging one gigantic bullet.
The numbers don’t lie. It is said that most new businesses fail and disappear before they hit their third year. Failure is the norm; success is a rarity that delights us because it is unexpected. It’s aimed for, sure, but the unspoken expectation is that success is a ‘maybe’, not a ‘will be’.
I think our definitions of failure and success are broken. We’re wrong. And I want to offer a different take on the idea of what it really means to fail.
Seth Godin recently published a fantastic little book called Poke the Box. Without giving away all of his great advice, the core message centers around the idea of taking the plunge and launching a product or service or idea despite the risk of “failure”. The battle against failure, you see, isn’t fought after you launch. It’s fought before. It’s finding the courage to even push the “publish” button in the first place.
I wrote my fantasy novel over the course of two years and finished it in 2007. I was so afraid of failure that when I receive the first rejection letter I simply gave up. I tucked the digital file away in a dark, dusty corner of my hard drive and forgot about it. I thought I had failed.
But the last four years have taught me a lot about taking risk. Building my own successful design business in the midst of a crumbling economy. Gathering and curating a popular, sought-after group of writers who have more talent in their little fingers that I could ever hope to attain. These things could have died in a notebook of ideas that I wasn’t courageous enough to implement. But instead I closed my eyes, pinched my nose, and dove into the deep end.
I know now that my novel was only a failure because I didn’t push it out into the world. How many people were going to buy and read it if it only resided on my hard drive? How many more would read it if I just made it available? I knew I had to take the risk of public ridicule, bad reviews and lackluster sales and simply do it. So I did it. It’s real. My book is something anyone around the world can buy and read it. And every day, people buy it. And that simply blows my mind.
When we don’t take the risk, we fail. When we don’t hold our breath and pull the curtain back, we fail. When we leave it buried in a folder or a box because we’re afraid of no one loving it, we fail.
How many copies you sell isn’t a measure of success. How much money you make isn’t a measure of success. The fact that you took a risk, had the courage to step out in faith and actually launched something you love and created – that is success. Everything else is just a bonus.