Permission to Fail

“In my adventure of life I’ve learned courage is not, not being afraid, it’s facing your fears even though you are afraid, and what you realize is that fear is an illusion. It isn’t real even though it appears to be real. The reason it isn’t real is because fear is always in the future. It is always about what might happen, but hasn’t. When or if it ever does, it is hardly ever as bad as it was expected. In fact, in every adversity comes a seed of equal or greater benefit.”

-Mark Ashmore

Are you motivated by the fear of failure or the desire to succeed?

For most of my life, I’ve been motivated by the fear of failure. I am naturally a people pleaser and as a result, my greatest fear (in anything that I did — school, sports, etc.) was that I wouldn’t live up to other’s expectations and that they wouldn’t like me. My thought process was something to the effect of: “If I do X, and I don’t perform well then my family and friends will think less of me. As a result, I better perform well or else I won’t be loved.” Reflecting on that, it’s no surprise I suffocated under the pressure of that type of thinking, feared failure, and ultimately didn’t perform at my best.

It wasn’t until I read a book called, “Mind Gym,” that my will to succeed grew stronger than my fear of failure. It’s still a work in progress but I’ve come to realize that fear is an illusion and that failure is a medium to learn and improve. From that perspective, it is much easier to embrace failure, let go of fear, and perform at your best.

At MeUndies, one of our core values is Permission to Fail and it is rooted in the following beliefs:

  1. You act without fear of failure because you believe that through failure there is something valuable you can learn.
  2. You have unwavering confidence that even in the event that you do fail, you can pick yourself up and get it right the next time.
  3. You act with courage, especially when making the right decision means going against the general consensus.
  4. You are adept at making decisions based on incomplete information because you’re confident in your ability to correct course.

I’ve seen firsthand how the opposite approach (instilling fear to drive results) can lead to a toxic culture where people fear the repercussions of making mistakes and set conservative goals, and ultimately the entire company performs at a mediocre level. More importantly, it’s almost impossible to shift from a culture that instills fear to drive results to a culture that embraces and encourages failure to drive results.

Our goal is to cultivate a culture that embraces failure. By giving our team permission to fail, we create an environment that challenges the status quo, takes calculated risks, and pursues new, innovative ways to solve challenges.

Over the past couple years since I’ve joined MeUndies, I’m most proud of how resilient our team has grown. Not surprisingly, we’ve made lots of mistakes and failed more times than I can count, but we’ve created an anti-fragile system that doesn’t just survive failures but gets stronger as a result.

Don’t get me wrong: Failure is not the goal. But, our belief is that failure is a means to an end that will allow us to achieve our full potential.