The Earliest Warning Sign Your Mission Will Fail

by Anne Dorko

You’re on your maiden voyage, and a splash of salt water sprays in your face as you stand at the bow.

Espionage is a new trade for you. The high seas is your new arena. You came in not knowing what to expect, only that you wanted the treasure at the end of the journey.

The crew you joined is made up of unfamiliar faces, and you’ve seen more new places in the last week than you can even remember. The rum fogs your memory, but it’s been the adventure of a lifetime.

A strapping young lad taps you on the shoulder. “Aye, the cap’n is asking for yer presence in the main quarters.” His face is somber and you wonder what has gone wrong.

You’re soon informed that you have accidentally sabotaged the mission, you miscalculated the route this morning and the ship is now stuck dead in the water.

Failure is inevitable.

pirates failure inevitable

The first warning sign that your mission will fail is that you’re going on a mission in the first place.

You’re grinning to yourself now, feeling triumphant and patting yourself on the back for knowing this all along. You were right: It’s not worth trying anything. You’re going to fail. Very few projects ever really succeed.

Only, you’re wrong.

You’re dead wrong. The thing about failure is that it’s a part of life. The thing about failure is that it will happen, at some point, in some variation.

We’re human. We’re not infallible.

By doing anything at all you are risking failure. By interacting with other humans, you risk saying the wrong thing. By going to work, you risk messing up and losing your job. By feeding the kids, you risk feeding them the wrong thing.

By trying to do something daring, you risk making a mistake along the way. Chances are that you will find failure in some capacity.

Your mission will meet failure, but whether it carries itself to success after that is up to you.

Failure doesn’t matter.

pirates failure doesnt matter

The thing about failure is that it just doesn’t matter.

Failure is so commonplace that you are silly to pay it any mind. Your failures don’t define you. You fail every day, but most of the time you’re not thinking about it or letting it stop you from living. Why should it be any different about the things you really care about?

Honestly? The reason you think failure is such a big deal is because you’re afraid of success. I know this because it’s true for me, too.

You hold on to the little failures because it’s a great excuse to avoid ever getting around to accomplishing anything. It’s easy to tell yourself you are capable of doing great things. It’s easy to reminisce about a time you had more energy for something. “I could have done anything,” you think, “back when circumstances were different.” Another easy phrase is, “I can do that later, when things change.”

It’s safe to live in a fantasy. In reality, living out a truly great fantasy is terrifying. It’s different. It’s change. Change is scary.

But on its own, failure is never a reason to quit.

Failure just means you may need to reevaluate your strategy, set your goals with a defined plan, and find yourself a support team.

Find the strength to fail.

pirate find strength to fail

Remind yourself why you believe in your mission. It’s a great place to start when you need the strength to move past a failure.

If you really, really want something, you’ll find that your motivation to fight the good fight will come naturally. (I like to call this “healthy obsession”, but you can call it whatever you want to.)

Know why you won’t let failure stop you.

I have five adopted sisters, and several of them have dealt with some really serious depression. It’s not always something you can cure, but you can learn effective coping methods that actually help when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom.

One of the methods that has proven helpful is having a mantra. Your mantra is a simple written message that you repeat over, and over, when you’re fighting off feelings of dispair. In this case, it’s a way to cope with the feeling of failure.

Here’s how to can create your own failure mantra – it should have these components:

  1. Acceptance of failure.
  2. Affirmation of why you’ll keep fighting.

Here are some examples of mantras I invented, if you’re having trouble coming up with your own:

  • Failure is commonplace. I am the captain of my own life, and I control my future.
  • Failure happens, large and small. My life is mine. I create my own opportunities.
  • I fail because I am willing to live. I live because I am willing to fail.

Want to get serious about using your mantra? Try it with some meditation.

  1. Sit in a quiet place. (Set a timer for 5-20 minutes, whatever you have time for.)
  2. Repeat your mantra to yourself either silently or out loud.
  3. When you say your mantra, think about the words. What do they mean to you? Why are you saying them?
  4. When the timer goes off, stop and keep your eyes closed.
  5. While you sit there in silence, be aware of yourself.
  6. Give yourself a few minutes before going on with the rest of your day.

You are a (self-fulfilled) prophecy.

pirate prophecy

A few days ago I was waiting for a friend, and happened to be near a Barnes & Noble.

I decided it might be interesting to read some of the psychology books they have available. I stumbled across an interesting title called the Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business.

I only had about twenty minutes to read, but there was an interesting section on people who tried to predict their failures… only, instead of becoming discouraged and quitting altogether, they prepared exact, specific plans on how they would anticipate and avoid those failures in the first place.

This requires you to know yourself.

In order to predict your own fickle behavior, you have to be honest about what you’ll try to do to get around the tasks that bring you to your ultimate goal.

One example was an elderly man who wanted to walk to meet his wife at the bus when she came home from work as part of his doctor-ordered mobility. He needed to do this in order to recover from hip surgery, so that he wouldn’t become totally immobile as he healed.

The first thing he did was actually write down his plans. Every literal step between his house and the bus stop was written down.

“I will get off the couch. I will open the door, step outside and close it. I will walk down the pathway to the sidewalk. I will turn right by the rosemary bushes.”

In the study from the book, patients who actually wrote down their plans were more successful than those who didn’t by a wide margin.

But some patients, like this elderly gentleman, took it one step further. He anticipated where he would be in the most pain, and what he would tell himself to keep himself moving towards the bus stop.

“I will take 2 of my pain meds before standing up, because standing up from the couch will hurt. I will bring 2 more with me in case I feel more pain. When I reach the door, I will remind myself of my wife who will be waiting for me at the bus stop, and how sad she will feel if I’m not there today.”

(These are examples from my memory, not direct quotes out of the book – it may not be exact, but you get the idea here.)

You can anticipate your own failure, and come up with a specific way to counter those failures.

You’ll still eventually fail in some way or another. But every time you fail, you can arm yourself for the next time. Fail better, fail stronger, and one day you’ll find that your fails are coming from a place of overall success.

Don’t forget to look around you, and take the wins you already have.

We fail because we’re willing to live. We are able to truly live because we’re willing to fail.

First published November 15, 2012

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