Every day, I am amazed at the sorts of things people are afraid of.
Perhaps because of my time in the Fusiliers Marins, – and because a handful of my friends are in hot war zones where death could come at any moment from a sniper’s bullet, landmine, rocket, mortar shell or IED, – I am not really all that phased by the thought of getting yelled at by my boss or looking bad when one of my projects doesn’t pan out the way I thought it would.
It isn’t to say that I don’t worry about office-related catastrophes. I don’t want to look bad in front of my peers. I don’t want to get yelled at by my boss. I don’t want to do anything that will make anyone I work with or work for think twice about letting me develop and execute their next marketing strategy. I get paid to deliver great work all of the time – not just some of the time. Like everyone else who is serious about what they do for a living, I don’t ever want to screw up. I don’t want to be wrong. So yes, like most of you, fear of failure is part of my world.
That being said, I make a choice every day not to let that fear get in the way of turning ambitious and often unproven ideas into a reality. Why? Because fear of failure is purely a vanity-driven fear. It’s bullshit. Heck, it’s pathetic and inexcusable once you’re over the age of 30.
Do I put my reputation on the line every time I take on a new project? Absolutely. Do I risk a black mark on my “file” every time I turn the dial a little further and push past our comfort zones? You bet. So what. What’s the worst thing that could happen if one of my projects doesn’t deliver? You take your licks, learn from your mistakes, and try again.
What I have found is that failure is a much more effective teacher than success. Taking chances and finding out how things work or don’t work makes you a more effective leader. You learn to ask “how can this go wrong?” early on in the planning process. It marries curiosity with wisdom, which is always a good thing. Conversely, sitting in an office doing the same crap every day for twenty years for fear of screwing up and looking like a fool doesn’t do much except turn you into a warm piece of expensive office furniture.
When you put things in perspective, taking a few chances here and there at work with the goal of improving your company’s position, growth rate or bottom line pale in comparison to working in a place where bullets and shrapnel (instead of a few angry words behind closed doors or some unpleasant moments during a presentation) are the threats you face every day.
Facing bullets and bombs every day takes a lot more courage than your boss occasionally taking a verbal dump on you.
Earlier today, ex-Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, just days before elections in her country. Bhutto, a woman, opposed a predominantly patriarchal government in the face of hatred so intense that death threats were a daily reality for her. She could have backed off. She could have thought about the risks and rationalized that perhaps retiring from public life, playing things safe, just flying under the radar and making a living without making waves was the smarter thing to do. The safer thing to do. But instead, she chose to stand for something. She chose to be an agent of change. She chose to give fear the middle finger and stand up for what she thought was best for her country and for her peers. Her murder today makes me very sad.
The kind of commitment, the level of responsibility and professionalism, and the unbelievable amount of courage that men and women like Benazir Bhutto display in their lives and careers help put things in perspective for me: How can I ever be afraid of things like petty office politics and the occasional little career dings when my world is a climate-controled office thousands of miles from the nearest war zone?
When most of us take a chance at work, the risk isn’t an assassin’s bullet finding us at our desk. It isn’t an RPG ripping through our windshield during our morning commute. We aren’t going to get shanked or strangled with piano wire in the executive bathroom by a couple of pissed off junior VPs. What is there to be afraid of? I mean really. What is there to be afraid of? A frown? A few angry words? Missing out on a promotion?
When did we become such wussies?
My advice for you today is this: Be engaged. Be bold. Change the game. Leave your competitors in the dust. Rewrite the rules. The worst thing that’ll happen is that you’ll occasionally screw up , but you’ll also occasionally score big, so the score won’t look as bad as you think. Most of the time, as long as you did your homework and set out to execute a well-thought-out plan, you don’t really have much to lose.
Nobody is going to put a bullet in your head if your last marketing campaign fell short of the expepected ROI. You may go down in flames, but at least you’ll have tried your best, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
Stop playing it safe. Go on the offensive. Either commit or go home.