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Fearing Failure Does Not Lead to Success

I had to take one of those funky personality tests recently.  One of the traits it highlighted about me is that I will make a change for the sole purpose of making a change.

Its conclusion was spot-on, I do make a lot of changes…

I don’t think I make changes because I’m bored.  I think I make them because I learned the art at an early age where I grew up with a lot of change.  

When I was a kid my father was a frequent victim of corporate restructures and activist investors, which caused a lot of chaos in my family.   By the time I was 18 we had relocated 6 times to 6 different states.  

When you grow up in chaos you start to play a lot of “what if” scenarios in your head… and they ALWAYS end up bad. So, you learn to make changes so that you can control the situations, and shirk away those you can’t.  You stay afloat…

But staying afloat is nothing more than playing defense.  And if you’re only playing defense, you can’t win.  I remember a few specific times when playing defense played against me:

• In my early 20’s I was a Naval Officer in flight school in Pensacola.  It was my dream scenario but instead of kicking butt, I decided to stay afloat.  Unfortunately, I became so afraid of making mistakes that I made a lot of them.  And it sucked…   Although I ended up having a great Navy career I wonder how much more I could have done if I decided to just kick ass earlier in the process… 

• I dated my wife for four years before I married her.  I almost passed out before the wedding.  We all know the what-ifs and the fact that the divorce rate is 50%.  With those statistics, who wouldn’t be scared poo-less?  When the doctor said “Great News!  You’re having TWINS…” I b-lined for the bar…  Being a great husband and father is a huge responsibility.  What happens if I fail?  But then I wonder how much more would I have enjoyed the moments if I embraced things and said “together we’re gonna make this great!”?  

• After a few years living in Los Angeles my wife and I moved to West – by God – Virginia for a commission only sales job.  No salary, no benefits, no safety net… just an opportunity to make a lot of money.  And we did. But the fear of not making a living, me forget the other people in the organization.  My fear of failure was masked in arrogance and I think I pissed off a lot of folks of.  Sorry guys…  How many more sales could I have gotten had I asked for your help, versus steamrolling you over?

Like a scene out of “The Right Stuff” the only voice I heard in my head was “Please God, don’t let me F-Up.”…  But the louder it became, the more I did!

Maybe it’s a result of age; perhaps it’s wisdom.  Maybe it’s the fact that I have a fantastic wife who supports just about everything I do.  But, somewhere along the way I started to play devil’s advocate with the voice.  Instead of playing out all of the doomsday scenarios and asking ‘how to I keep from failing?’ I changed the conversation to ‘WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO SUCCEED?’  And all of the sudden I was at peace…  I could now lay out a path and I could play OFFENSE!

For instance:  

• To get a new customer takes me 100 phone calls.  Ok, I better find 100 people to call.  How do I get there?  What do I need to do to make a million dollars?  It’s all metrics and it’s all simple stuff…

• With regards to my marriage it’s not ‘how am I going to stay out of divorce court?’  It’s about ‘what am I going to do to make this great?’  I buy her flowers every Saturday, we laugh a lot and we have fun together.  I’m truly lucky she puts up with my crap, too.

• I spend a lot of time with my kids…  

I talk to a lot of people every week.  Too many are simply playing defense; so afraid to push the ball down the field that they don’t realize that they’re actually moving backwards.  Passed-up…, run over, pushed aside.  They’re stressed-out, strung-out, nervous wrecks.  And the only voice that they hear is ‘What if I fail?’   

Maybe it’s time to look at an alternative:   

• Determine  what SUCCESS looks like 

• Map out a plan to find it in whatever it is you’re doing!, complete with metrics and executables 

• Be Nike and JUST DO IT

Indeed.  You may try and fail.  But that’s a hell of a lot better than not trying…  and failing, anyway.