What would you do if you could fail?

Today I was reminded of the old inspirational question “What would you do if you could not fail?” The followup to one’s answer, of course, is to ask why one isn’t doing that thing anyway–to point at that we shouldn’t let the fact that we actually can fail stop us. I’ve always had sympathy this notion, probably because my instinctive answer has always been that what I would do is what I am doing: be a writer.

But today I realized I wasn’t taking that question to its logical conclusion. Because, dude–if I really, truly couldn’t fail? I wouldn’t be writing–I’d be scaling Everest, and making solo journeys to the South Pole, and negotiating cease-fires between hostile nations by standing between their armies and demanding that they stop shooting.

The reason I’m not doing those things now is precisely because the odds are overwhelming that I would fail–and the consequence of failing would be to die a horrible death.

So, umm, maybe we all shouldn’t live as if we can’t fail after all. 🙂

However, the consequences for taking more ordinary risks–pursuing a difficult career, competing for some honor, telling someone you love them–don’t involve certain death. For most risks, failure is painful, but not deadly.

And that’s why we take them. Because we can fail, and survive, and pick up the pieces, and try again or move on. I didn’t start writing imagining I couldn’t fail; I started writing knowing there was a real chance I would fail, but determined to give it a try anyway.

Maybe when we don’t take risks, it’s because we don’t understand that when we’re not climbing Everest, failure actually is an option, and that it’s okay to acknowledge this even while giving the things we do in life everything we have, and more.

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