Failure is Sometimes an Option

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In the movie Apollo 13, flight director Gene Kranz warned that, “Failure is not an option” when NASA scientists back on Earth were trying to figure out how to bring the astronauts back home safely.  In many areas of society, the truth is that failure is an acceptable part of the pathway towards success.   The relationship between failure and success varies greatly depending on what one is engaged in.

Two months ago, I worked part-time as an independent contractor for, a delivery service that uses a cell phone app to send couriers to make local deliveries around their neighborhood.  After a few days of making deliveries in my spare time, I began to enjoy working the business.  I made good money and I liked that I was in control of when I wanted to work.  Two weeks afterward, I was shocked to find out that my delivery account was terminated.  In essence, I got “fired”.  I found out with each delivery I made, every customer received an email asking them to rate the quality of my service.  My overall rating after two weeks was a 4.2 out of 5.0; this was below the 4.7 threshold for me to continue working for them.

I was very upset and wondered what I had done wrong for most of my customers appeared to be very happy with my service.  I then realized that the Postmates corporation had a very high standard for those who worked for them.  Due to their high standard, in my eyes, I had “failed” as an independent contractor for them.  This made me think about the different ways that failure is viewed by society and how standards for failure vary greatly depending on what you’re involved with.

For Postmates, failure happened to those who scored below a 4.7 out of 5.0.  If I translated that to a percentage, a 4.7 would be 94%, 4.6 would be 92%.  In the Postmates world, a 92% or below is considered a failure.  In almost every school across the United States, a passing grade is a 65%.  For students, they can fail one-third of the time, yet still pass their overall grades.

A professional baseball player can fail 70% of the time when getting struck out at the plate and can still be considered having a successful season with a .300 average.

If an automobile salesman sells one car out of every 20 people he shows it to, he would have failed 95% of the time.  The 5% that he actually sells a car to would make him/her a success in the auto sales industry.  That salesman is well aware that if he wants to sell five cars, he will have to show them to 100 customers.

One of the greatest examples of a “failure” is with inventor Thomas Edison.  He experimented with over 10,000 light bulb designs that all failed before he finally designed the one that worked.  If you want to put that in percentage terms, Edison failed 99.99% of the time.  In his situation, he kept on failing until he succeeded.  His persistence and ability to accept failure at a high rate made him one of the most successful inventors of the 20th Century.

I am looking forward to failing as much as possible because I know that the more failures I go through, the more successes I will achieve.  Knowing what I know now, failure is a rather attractive option.



Making The Impossible Possible


One of the gifts my son received this past Christmas was an addictive brain game called Rush Hour.  It comes with a bunch of reference cards showing different levels  of difficulty (easy, medium, hard, and expert).  Each card has a pattern of plastic toy cars that you have to start each unique game with.  The goal is to move the cars in just right combination so you can move your red car out of the traffic jam and off the game board to win the game.  I have tried to play this game and the harder levels are difficult even for an adult.

My son spent hours on the hard level with no success.  Mentally exhausted, he shouted out to me, “Dad, this is impossible!”.  Hearing this, I turned my head towards him, then a few seconds later, he had solved it.  I used this incident to teach him that if you never give up and keep on persisting, you can  solve things that seem impossible at the moment.  This is a good lesson for adults as well, for we have to visualize and have faith in a solution even when at the moment, things seem impossible.  Our children’s success in life will depend on their persistence in not giving up when things look bleak.