Just like the concept of perfection, I have a hard time with the concept of failure. To me, it's like giving the world an excuse to notice my flaws and shortcomings. Growing up as a competitive swimmer, sometimes not winning felt like failing, while in reality, failing probably should have been not completing an event. Still, failure. Not something I've ever embraced.
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx Hosiery, recently landed on the cover of the June 2016 Forbes Magazine as one of America's richest self-made women. (sidenote: I often think about the experience of watching Spanx develop as a company when I was their buyer at NM.) When asked about her process and motivations, she cites dinner table conversation when she was growing up. Her dad used to ask the family, "What did you fail at today?" The idea was that failure represented trying something without a guarantee of success. There is victory in failure, because she got out of her comfort zone and attempted something new. By growing comfortable with the concept of failure, she didn't dread the ridicule that would come from not being successful. And without that baggage, she was successful--beyond anybody's expectations.
So, have I ever set out to fail? Not really. Have I failed at anything? Of course. Have I been comfortable talking about those failures? No way. But I think being prepared to fail is part of bravery. Fear keeps us comfortable. We can criticize from a place of fear. We can judge others, believe we are better at what we do in secret than the people who do what they do in public, And maybe we are better than others, but nobody will ever know, because we're afraid to find out that maybe we're not as good as we thought. Fear keeps us safe; failure puts us at risk.
Four years plus one day ago, I published my first book. That was probably the closest I've ever come to setting out to fail. I knew I was taking a huge risk and leaving myself open to the kind of criticism I'd spent a lifetime trying to avoid. Some people told me I was making a fool of myself. Others congratulated me. Since then I've weathered good and bad reviews, acceptance and rejection, recognition and anonymity. I've enjoyed champagne at the high points and shed tears at the low, but the one thing I remain acutely aware of is that I risked failure and it was the best decision of my life. So for me, failure is definitely an option. I always want to know that I tried something even if it doesn't work out the way I had hoped. You should make it an option too.