Failure Is an Option, but Fear Is Not

That’s what James Cameron said at the end of his TED talk and I love it. It’s simple but powerful. Failure is an option, but fear is not.
Unfortunately, people often do the exact opposite: failure is not an option, but fear is. They don’t tolerate failure but they tolerate fear. They despise people who fail but they let fear get in the way of reaching their dreams.
We shouldn’t join them, of course. Let’s be on the right side of the fence.

Failure Is an Option

Here is how to apply this principle in your life:
1. Make room for failure
Nobody wants to fail, but failing is inevitable on your way to success. George Bernard Shaw said:

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

So if you never fail then it probably means that you do nothing. Failing shows that you actually do something instead of just sitting in your comfort zone.
2. Learn from each failure
Though you need to make room for failure, you shouldn’t just fail. You need to fail intelligently. That means each failure should teach you something. Don’t just fail and get nothing out of it. Learn something from each failure that makes you better and better over time.
3. Fail fast
Time is precious, so if you failed then you’d better fail fast. Why? Because it will make you learn and improve faster. It will make you ready for the prime time sooner.
The key here is to shorten your feedback cycle. Find a way to get quick feedback on your effort so that you can adjust yourself soon. What you need to do is testing your idea in the real world as soon as possible. Don’t wait until everything is perfect. Instead, test it once it’s good enough and refine from there. The mantra of the open source world applies here: release early, release often.

Fear Is Not an Option

A big part of fear is fear of failure and that’s been covered above. Here are two more ways to apply this principle:
1. Take risks
Many people hesitate to work on something they aren’t familiar with because they are afraid of the unknown. But fear is not an option, so you should be willing to take risks. Explore new ideas. Experiment with new things. If you are successful, the reward could be huge. Even if you aren’t, you will still come out better than before.
2. Do things you are inconvenient with
Doing things you aren’t convenient with gives you the most opportunities for growth. Since you stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will grow a lot. This isn’t easy to apply (for me, at least), but it’s something we should strive to do from time to time.
Is there anything else you learn from James Cameron’s statement? How do you befriend failure and cast out fear?


  1. Great Post. Simple yet many of us fail to realize the importance of failure and more importantly fail to recognize the importance of early failure.
    Fail faster and succeed sooner is a brilliant idea. Failures are a mark of traveling and stretching out of comfort zone.
    Thank you for the wonderful post.

  2. Nice post! Spot in with failure, it’s inevitable – it’s needed. Therefore best to get it down fast and intelligently. 🙂 I see failures as a successes because I’ve successfully learned something new.

  3. Hey Donald,
    Thanks for the reminder =) I think failure is almost required, I think both of us have seen that more often than not, people who have accomplished many things have also failed at many things.
    I think the danger is like you said – just not making room for the possibility of failure. There will always be times where sometimes failure really is the end, but more often than not it’s a positive experience, even if htings don’t work out perfectly

  4. Lakshmi,

    Failures are a mark of traveling and stretching out of comfort zone.

    Exactly. It’s comforting to think of failure this way, isn’t it?
    Yes, fast and intelligently. Two important words to remember when dealing with failure 🙂

    people who have accomplished many things have also failed at many things.

    That’s true. Unfortunately, people often just see one side of the coin: the successes. They forget about the other side.

  5. this is the life we are living

  6. This post holds much weight for me. I have recently failed in my leadership position and it hits you hard in your ability to perform. The key for me was to get back up, dust myself off, and continue trying. I have always looked at failure as being out of my control. Something I couldn’t control anymore than I can control the sun from rising and setting. What I can control is my ATTITUDE. Nobody can tell me how I should react to a situation. Great reminder post to what I have been trying to work on!

  7. You’re right Donald, failure is an option unfortunately. If we could flip failure on or off like it was a switch then everything we do would have success stamped on it. Great post, thanks for sharing!!

  8. This post is spot on, not only do “You need to fail intelligently.
    Takes notes on the way. Post them so they’re visible. Remind yourself daily of the things that made you fail in the first place.

  9. […] to do about it?  I really like Donald Latumahina’s take on the subject over at Life Optimizer.   (A bit funny in itself: can you solve your perfection problem by “optimizing” your […]

  10. “Time is precious, so if you failed then you’d better fail fast. Why? Because it will make you learn and improve faster. It will make you ready for the prime time sooner.” – I like this part.
    I like all the theme, for me is very usefull to be ready to fail…

  11. A great idea comes from the book Dune in which the character recites some text to stop him being fearful. We will all “fail” on some level from some point of view but fear is just silly.

  12. Great post. The email subscription for this article arrived just perfectly in time when I need something to really make me decide on one thing that would somehow make me grow professionally and I am afraid I might get mistakes. When I read the article it made me realize that I can’t avoid failures or mistakes and I can avoid being fearful. If I won’t at least even try to do the things that are out of my comfort zone, then maybe I will not be able to learn. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  13. June,
    Failure is indeed part of our lives.
    I’m glad you have the right attitude. That will help you a lot in being successful.
    Unfortunately? I think it’s actually a blessing. It means that you have the permission to fail so there’s no reason not to try. It greatly helps you eliminate fear.
    I agree. It’s easy to forget what you’ve learned if you don’t constantly remind yourself.
    Yes, being ready for failure (not expecting to fail though, they’re different) does make a big difference.
    Interesting. I haven’t read that book.
    That’s great! I wish you all the best 🙂

  14. I am 17 now , and its first time i m experiencing
    whole new enviorment of fear,helpless,depress,lonelyness,acceptance of gods will.Thanks for the post its valuble for me.

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