Who cares what you’d do if you could not fail?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I love this question. Or, I used to love it. It invites you to dream big. Well, gee, if I couldn’t fail, I’d run for president and fix this country!

The question suggests you might stop worrying about failure and simply pursue your dreams.

And perhaps not all your idle imaginings, but which fantasy you would actually pursue. Because maybe you have a list of things you might do if you couldn’t fail; is there one thing that comes immediately to mind when you think only of what you’d most wish to do? Maybe I’d put my time and energy into a podcast or webinar.

Which then leads to the obvious follow-up: if the thing matters so much, why are you letting fear of failure get in the way? As in, what’s stopping me from making a podcast or webinar? Perhaps it is, in fact, fear of failure—that my work might come out boring or amateurish and no one will ever listen/watch. Why don’t  I get over being scared and just get started on making that podcast or webinar today?

Is that even the right question?

Not everyone has a list of answers bubbling right to the surface when asked what they’d do if they could not fail; some have no answer at all. One of my clients said she couldn’t think of a thing. She looked vaguely worried. I suggested to her she put it into the realm of fantasy. Not something you’d really do but imagine the sky’s the limit!

She seemed game to try the exercise, but now that I think further on it, I wonder if this question is simply irrelevant to her, and also: that’s just fine. The question is intended to get at one aspect of well-being: removing limits to achieving something you find important and meaningful. It fits right into our culture, self-help books, and podcasts which are so achievement-oriented that we forget that success is not the only road to happiness. Some of the figures we admire suggest that we should aim to accomplish feats on an impressive scale, as if rising above the rest of humanity were somehow necessary for or even related to happiness. Are the most successful people the happiest? Of course not. If they were, the world would not have to mourn our idols lost to suicide.

No, you don’t have to embark on grand endeavors or conquer your greatest fears to be happy. In fact, we can find deep purpose and meaning within the scope of our everyday moments and behaviors. And maybe we are more likely to find deep satisfaction in doing just that. Positive psychology has found that meaning and purpose are important to your overall well-being, even more significant than achievement.

So yeah, maybe if I knew I couldn’t fail, I’d take the advice of people watching me hula hoop in gym in the morning and try to get on America’s Got Talent. Yet, how is working towards a spot on a TV talent show any more fulfilling than taking the time out of one’s day on a regular basis to be a sponsor, or make a positive life with a loved one in the face of grave illness? These are the heroic feats my clients accomplish every day, and ones that bring purpose and meaning to their lives.

Instead of asking ourselves, “What would you do if you could not fail?” we might ask, “What do you do that makes your life have purpose and meaning, and how might you do more of that?”

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