Dare to fail, dare to lose

Today I’m going to talk about a difficult subject: daring to fail.

It’s a difficult subject because deep down, no one wants to fail, no one want’s to lose, and no one wants to look stupid. We all want to shine, be flawless, and be the hero that saves the day all the time (at least I do, if I’m honest).

However, that’s not how things work. You have to take risks if you want to achieve something. If you play everything safe, you won’t get anywhere.

Every day in life, we are presented with new but scary opportunities, times where we should speak up, or situations where we would love to try out a new approach. However, often we’re scared to fail, to lose something along the process, or to just be embarrassed in front of others. The truth is, if you are too scared of negative outcomes or of losing something, you won’t move forward. Being too scared leads to analysis paralysis, endless discussions of the same topic, and ultimately decision aversion.

We need to remind ourselves that very few decisions are as critical as they feel to us. Our minds are primed to focus and over-index on the risk and negative – after all, for our ancestors, the impact of being eaten by a lion was much more dramatic than the impact of losing out on juicy fruit. Being overly scared made our species survive in the early days when we were some of the weakest animals out there. There are very few real dangers to us in today’s world, and we need to make sure that our minds don’t apply live-or-die frameworks to much more mundane decisions. We need to make a conscious effort to see the opportunity and the positive instead of being paralyzed by perceived risks.

Sometimes it helps to ask yourself what could really go wrong if you make a wrong decision. In most situations, the outcome is far less dramatic than what our subconsciousness wants us to believe. Most decisions we are making are reversible, and very few have a life and death impact.

Put things into perspective and move forward!

Embrace risk, be bold, and contribute to your full potential: voice your opinion, take the leap and try out the new process, push back against authority if the facts are on your side, don’t let the loud voices in a meeting (or email thread) drown you out, make bold decisions that move things forward (you can always test it in a pilot if you’re not sure)! Don’t wait, don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis!

Looking at my personal experience, I was always the best, most effective, and received the most positive feedback when I didn’t worry about losing. When I felt I had nothing to lose, I made the best contributions and had the biggest impact. In a nutshell, I was most valuable to the team when I was willing to lose everything. In times when I was scared to fail or worried about the future impact, I ended up not contributing much at all, as I was waiting things out, trying to determine where the safest path would be. Leaps forward always happened to me in times where I was most willing to embrace risk.

As many of you know, I’ve been practicing martial arts for many decades, and one of the key principles that stuck we me from early on is this:

You cannot win if you’re not willing to die.

That sounds extreme, but to put it in words that are more fitting for modern times, if you are not ready to lose (everything), your mind will hold you back. Your moves will be half-hearted and not bold enough, and your mind and heart will not be fully into it.

My martial arts teacher used to say:

There is no half-pregnant. Either you do it, or you don’t.

Dare to be bold, dare to take risks, dare to lead!


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Thriving in High-Pressure Environments
Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
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