Do you remember the movie Apollo 13 from way back in 1995? The movie featured a young Tom Hanks and was based on the true story of how the Apollo 13 crew overcame all the odds to return back to earth after a catastrophic failure while on their way to the moon. When Tom Hank’s character, Jim Lovell, first discovers the problem, he radios NASA and utters the now famous words, “Houston, we have a problem.” The saying instantly became a metaphor and was widely used throughout the world before the movie made it to VHS (remember those?).
Although that is the quote most people remember from the movie, there was another that became just as famous. When Ed Harris’ character, Gene Kranz, is discussing with all the experts about how to bring the astronauts back to earth; he passionately says to the technicians, “Failure is not an option!”
That saying has become somewhat of a mantra to many people. If an option is to be deemed viable, success must be guaranteed. The idea of failing is something that no one wants associated with him or her. We see people that are successful and assume they must have always been that way, but there could be nothing farther from the truth. The following are the epitome of what we would consider successful people:
-Walt Disney was told he was unimaginative and that a mouse would never work.
-Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything”.
-Sir Isaac Newton was next in line to run the family farm but he failed miserably.
-Oprah Winfrey was told she was “Unfit for TV”.
-Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
-Henry Ford’s first auto company went out of business.
-Harland David Sanders, the famous KFC “Colonel,” couldn’t sell his chicken. More than 1000 restaurants rejected him and his recipe.
-Jerry Seinfeld was booed off-stage his first performance.
-Steven Spielberg got rejected from film school. – 3 Times
-Marilyn Monroe’s first contract with Columbia Pictures expired because they told her she wasn’t pretty or talented enough to be an actress.
-J.K. Rowling was on welfare.
-The Beatles were dropped by their record label after only their first 15 songs.
-Albert Einstein didn’t speak until age 4 and didn’t read until age 7. His teachers labeled him “slow” and “mentally handicapped.
-After his first film, Harrison Ford underwhelmed the producer and was told he would probably never succeed.
-Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire life, to a friend.
-Dr. Seuss’ first book was rejected by 27 different publishers.
-Steve Jobs was removed from the company he started.
-Soichiro Honda was passed over for an engineering job at Toyota and left unemployed.
-Hugh Jackman got fired from a 7-Eleven.
-Elvis Presley got fired after his first performance.
Many of these people failed miserably, but they failed forward. Several of them failed over and over again, but they used that failure to become what others only dreamed of being. They were not content playing it safe or being ordinary. They welcomed failure, and because of that, the succeeded.
Sometimes failure truly is not an option, like when it comes to breathing. In the case of the Apollo 13 mission, there obviously wasn’t another option. However, in our everyday lives, there are few decisions we could make that would truly result in failure. Often, the reason decisions are so difficult is due in large part the abundance of good choices.
One way to guarantee failure is indecision. How many people have had something extraordinary to contribute to the world but did not because they were afraid of failing? By choosing not to pursue something because we are concerned with failure sounds a lot like failing to me.
Failure should be an option because often it is the only way to discover if something does or does not work. Thomas Edison once said when asked about his many failures while inventing the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The next time you turn on a light, be glad Edison was not afraid to fail.