For the last several months I have been coaching a brilliant young man who works at one of the world’s largest technology companies. In our coaching we have worked on developing an extraordinary idea, which could change the face of the world. It is inspiring. Because he is a little shy, I agreed to go with him to several meetings in his company where we could present his brilliant idea to various 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.
When we are very young, in our teenage years, we think and hope that life will just be an endless series of successes. We imagine that in every way the trajectory of our life will look like this:
As we get a little older, however, we start to understand that not everything goes well for us each and every time. Life is not a continuous upward ascent, but goes through an alternation of 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:
Now back to my coaching client in the little room where we were sitting together.
“What will they think if the project does not go through?” I asked him. “They’ll think that you were the guy with the great idea, who got totally and enthusiastically behind it and gave it his all. You are the guy who wanted to contribute something new and different. You are the guy who had the courage to stick his neck out and be innovative. You will be remembered as that guy, whether it succeeds or whether it fails.”
I went on to remind him of most peoples’ experience of dating in high school. I can remember when I was a teenager that the more I liked a girl, the more terrified I would feel. 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 would knock back my drink (teenagers over 16 were allowed to drink in England in the 70s’) and I would stride across the room. At least sometimes. Then it really did not matter what happened. 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 are not the ones where I was rejected or laughed at, but the ones where I held back and refused to take a risk.
Highly successful, and accomplished, and fulfilled, and loving, and creative people are those who have put themselves out, no matter what. They have had a more or less equal share of success and failure but actually every success and every failure is part of a process of evolution and self-actualization.
My friend John Gray sometimes reflects on why he became so successful and famous 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 next time you find yourself with a great idea that could help people, do not even worry 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 you, for giving it your best shot each and every time.
Now tell me, what are your thoughts about that?