For the last several months, I’ve been coaching a brilliant young man who works at one of the world’s largest technology companies.
We’ve been developing an extraordinary idea of his that could change the face of the world. Because he’s a little shy, I agreed to go with him to several meetings at his company while he presented his brilliant idea to various vice presidents and other big shots.
At the end of a day of such meetings, we sat together in a small conference room to reflect upon the day. “But what if I fail?” he asked me. “What will people think of me if this project never gets off the ground?”
He was afraid that putting himself out there, taking a risk and making a contribution, might backfire and cause him to look like a fool.
As teenagers, we think and hope life will be an endless series of successes. We imagine the trajectory of our life will look like this:
As we get a little older, we start to understand that not everything goes well for us each and every time. Life isn’t a continuous upward ascent, but alternates between successes and failures.
I remember one time, I was talking with Lee Brower at a meeting of the Transformational Leadership Council. Lee is one of the world’s greatest experts on estate management—he knows how to manage money. “I have made hundreds of investments in my life,” said Lee. “Some of them went well and some of them really didn’t. But as long as I have one more success than failure, I’m a winner.”
Like many very successful people, Lee understands that the very nature of this playground includes both success and failure.
So now you might think that life is more like this:
Back to my coaching client in the little room where we were sitting together:
“What will they think if the project doesn’t go through?” I asked him rhetorically. “They’ll think you were the guy with the great idea, who got totally and enthusiastically behind it and gave it his all. You’re the guy who wanted to contribute something new and different. You’re the guy who had the courage to stick his neck out and be innovative. You’ll be remembered as that guy, whether it succeeds or whether it fails.”
I went on to remind him of most people’s experience of dating in high school. As a teenager, that the more I liked a girl, the more terrified I felt. If I went to a party or a dance and saw a beauty across the room, I could spend hours deliberating and waiting and trying to pluck up courage. Finally, I’d knock back my drink (teenagers over 16 were allowed to drink in England in the 70s) and stride across the room. At least sometimes.
What happened next didn’t matter. She could say yes. She could say no. The important thing was that I asked. When I look back on my youth, the moments that I most regret aren’t the ones when I was rejected or laughed at, but the ones when I held back and refused to take a risk.
Highly successful, accomplished, fulfilled, loving and creative people are those who have put themselves out there, no matter what.
They’ve had a more or less equal share of successes and failures, but those successes and failures are part of a process of evolution and self-actualization.
My friend John Gray sometimes reflects on why he became so successful and has helped so many people. “90 percent is just about showing up,” he likes to say.
And so we understand that life is actually more like this:
Every success moves you upward into greater arenas of self-expression in an obvious way. But equally every failure is a learning, and provides a solid foundation for starting over with even better information and richer life experience.
So the next time you find yourself with a great idea that could help people, don’t worry even for a moment about what people are going to think, if it will succeed or if it will fail. People will love and respect you and you will love and respect yourself for giving it your best shot each and every time.
Author: Arjuna Ardagh
Editor: Evan Yerburgh
Images: top image: Flickr, other images: courtesy of the author