Monday, August 09, 2010


I don't like facebook motivational quotes, really. I'm not sure if I've ever posted one. I don't think so. I hope not. I've read a gazillion of them...and liked only a few. To be honest, they kind of annoy me. If I wanted to read inspirational and motivational quotes every day, I'd buy one of those flip calendars with sayings across the top. Like Facebook, there are always one or two good ones in there.

But there is this question I can't get out of my mind. It's not a quote. Rather, it is a question that is stuck in my mind *because* of a quote I read. It's a quote we all have heard, a popular one. So, it must be one of the good ones, if not too well-known or well-worn. The quote is: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?"

I don't know who said it. I can look it up on google, but I don't want to because I really don't like the quote. I have never liked it. I never understood why I didn't like it. In fact, I never cared that I never understood why I didn't like it. It was just another one of those popular quotes, meant to inspire and motivate, and ooh and ahh you... just another one of those quotes I didn't like.

What a scrooge I am! What a cynic, a downer. How un-vogue that I wrinkle my nose at it. My apologies to anyone who has posted it on his or her wall and received 20 approving "thumbs up" in response.

Well, I took another look at that quote recently. A harder look. And the harder look prompted a question. And it is *that* question that made me realize why the other quote leaves me unsatisfied, uneasy, and shrugging.

You see, while I think it's fun to ask what we would do if we knew we could not fail, I think it's a silly question.

If I knew I could not fail, I would do lots of things. I would never miss a diagnosis, I would set a world record at 100 miles, I would fly into space, I would love only if it never hurt. But if I knew I would not fail then what have I accomplished?

Instead, what I really want to know is what I would do if I thought I was very likely to fail but stood just a chance in hell that I wouldn't.

It's not a quote but a question.

Certainty has no appeal to me, no challenge. It raises no questions. It's secure, safe, mundane. Uncertainty, on the other hand, is luring, exciting, risky. That is what I want to pursue.

What would I do if all odds were against me? What would I attempt to achieve if failure were my biggest obstacle? Of course, it's not a new thought in any way. In fact, there is one quote that I admit does in a way motivate me, and I posted it on the top of my blog many years ago.

"Only those who risk failing greatly can ever succeed greatly." – RFK

I like that one. It states a fact. Yet it doesn't pose a challenge. Therefore, I think I like better the challenge of a question that asks me what I would do knowing that I was risking failure, and better yet, that it was indeed very likely, though not certain, to happen.

That is the thing I want to do. That is the thing I will do. I will focus not on the apparently insurmountable obstacles in my way. Rather, I will see the glimmer of hope, the minute possibility that exists. And I will move toward it. How can there be fear of failure when it is likely and expected? How can there not be the thrill of success when it is almost, but not certainly, impossible?

I ask myself: What would I do if I thought I was very likely to fail but stood just a chance in hell that I wouldn't?

That is my rumination.


Tommy said...

Awesome post! Quotes that boil the complex issues of life into a couple of words are often way too simplistic to be realistic. But to ask me what I would do if I was likely to fail but have a slim chance of success like Guinness is "brilliant".

Ace said...

My equally cynical question on the quote would be, how many things would ever be on the list? (things you could do with no chance of failure) I'm thinking not many. The chance, even likelihood of failure is what makes it the post.

Olga said...

I never posed this question (your question), and weirdly enough, I never heard a quote you described (I like quotes in general). I think the one you described is really not very smart, or inspiring exactly because there is no challenmge in it. I think the beauty in things is in trying to go against the odds. The beauty is in not knowing how it will end up. From race to marriage:)

SteveQ said...

I ran across the quote you didn't like for the first time only 10 minutes before reading this post! I don't like it either - if I couldn't fail, I'd be God, not me, and that's not a job I'd care to have!

There's only one downside to attempting the just nearly impossible. When you fail, people look at you, shake their heads and call you an idiot. So... still attempting the nearly impossible, just being more careful who finds out bout it.

Sarah said...

I really like your perspective! I agree, why bother if you know ahead of time you'll succeed. I thought about this a lot during my 31 laps (47 miles) around Capitol Lake at the Transcendence 12 hour in Olympia yesterday. It was 97 degrees and I've never run in heat like that. Hoped for 50 miles, but didn't think it possible to even go for 12 hours. I stuck it out and didn't get my mileage goal, but I accomplished more than I thought I could. The striving for the seemingly impossible is what makes it all worthwhile.

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