Last year I visited the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. I learned about America’s big project of getting the man to the Moon and how their efforts were driven by one simple motto: failure is not an option. Or is it?
To the Moon!
While the story of the American space program is incredibly inspiring, I think the motto can be misinterpreted, if you think about it the wrong way - and at that point it not only becomes unhelpful, it becomes toxic.
If you look at how the program progressed, you can clearly see that the people working on it failed - a lot. They didn’t build a successful rocket in their first try. They created prototypes and iterated on the designs until they discovered one that worked. It took many years of feeling like you’re not getting anywhere to be able to get to the Moon.
Houston, we have a problem
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to interpret the motto as you must not fail. It’s very dangerous to think about it this way, it creates an environment where you’re afraid of trying anything because you might fail. That puts you in a fixed mindset and prevents you from being able to grow and develop.
When we were little, we kept failing all the time - can you imagine trying to walk for the first time, falling over and just giving up right there, crawling for the rest of your life? Me neither. So why is it so easy to lose sight of this mindset when we grow up?
The answer is because of fear. We’re scared we’ll be judged by others, people will think we’re incompetent and we’ll lose our friends. None of that is likely to happen - everyone else is too busy being scared of showing their own shortcomings to think about yours.
The only way to avoid making mistakes is to not do anything in life. But is this really the life worth living?
Stick the landing
Landing on the Moon is one of the success stories, but there are many more failure stories that we rarely hear about. They
’re not as captivating and motivating despite being the more likely outcome. Sometimes you set out to do something, you keep failing at it and eventually you realise that it just won’t work out.
This is fine. Not everything is worth pursuing and the best way to find out is trying it. I feel like this message gets lost among all the productivity and hustle content, with everyone telling you how easy and amazing their life is.
You might think that when you fail, you end up exactly where you started. But the reality is that you now know more about what you’re doing, and you know yet another way of not solving the problem you set out to solve. In the worst case scenario, you know better what you don’t want to do in life.
Next time you think about passing on something you want to do because it might not work out, think about how many mistakes people at NASA made before they were able to build a rocket that could take people to the Moon and back.
Go ahead and give yourself a chance to find out if that’s what you want.