Pretty early in most of my client sessions, the following thing happens, shortly after someone reveals a dream to me:

Me: So, what’s stopping you from going for it?
Them: Well, what if it fails and then I’m right back where I started?

Now, at this point, a lot of clients are expecting me to promise them that they won’t fail, if they just go for it and work hard and stand on one leg while rubbing their tummy and patting their head. They expect me to only focus on their vision of success and let nothing stand in their way.

Instead, I say, “Okay, let’s say you fail. So what?”
One of the best things I can do for a client is to help them fail. In excruciating detail.

Of course, I usually try to do that pretty early on, and it’s almost always imaginary.

I have them describe in minute, painful detail about what that failure would look like and what it would mean for them. We’re talking worst case scenarios.

And I let them wallow in that a little bit–because secretly we love few things more than imagining our own disastrous ends. (I’m sure there is a German word for that–like Schadenfreude, but about yourself. Please tell me if you know it. I love learning new things.)

And then once they’ve wallowed a bit, I say, “Okay, and then what?”

Usually, they’re still slightly starry-eyed and slightly turned on (the perfectionists especially) from all that catastrophizing, so I have to ask a couple of times before they’re back to Earth and they can actually hear me.

Me: And after the failure, then what?
Them: Well…I guess…I’d…figure something else out?????
Me: I guess you would.

I can tell by how slowly they’re answering that the thought of post-failure life has rarely occurred to them. There’s only the apex–the moment of failure–and then nothing, blackness. Delicious, sweet, off-the-hook void of nothingness. Maybe that’s what’s so appealing about those failure fantasies–they are so final. They give such a rarely experienced sense of completion.

Now, a lot of people recommend that you focus on your success–I have recommend that in these very virtual pages–visualizing and feeling exactly how good it will feel to get the thing you want to get. Feel the podium, be the podium, etc.

But imagining your failure in spectacular fashion is also incredibly useful, because it turns out Donna Summer was right: this, too, you will survive.
And you’ll come out on the other side with more information, more experience, more know-how, and more resilience–all things which conspire to make your next approach more successful.

When you intentionally and realistically focus on all the failure you’re fantasizing about, that can be a way of taking the reins, instead of just being at the mercy of it. When you try to resist the failure, it’s like trying not to think of a pink elephant–it roars into your consciousness and multiplies. When you say, okay, “so I might fail, and then what?” that sends a message to yourself that you are capable of figuring out what to do next.

It’s acknowledging the reality that sometimes the wild yeast, so to speak, tames you. And instead of letting that demoralize you, it can empower you.

Everything is survivable. You have survived things that seemed impossible at the time. And you’re still here, being your wonderful, resilient self.

But you must have faith in your ability to do the figuring out, to do the surviving. Sometimes running a failure scenario through can help you see: oh yeah, I do know how to problem solve, and here’s what I would do. Oh yeah, I do keep on going.

And when you really think about it, failure just means something doesn’t go according to plan.

Well, I have some news for you that isn’t really news–things rarely go according to plan.

Sometimes things go sideways. Sometimes they go so sideways you end up losing some things you love–money, friends, status, comfort. Sometimes it looks like, “well there goes my credit rating and my friends and my sense of dignity.” Sometimes they go better than your Schadenfreude fantasies could possibly conceive. Sometimes you find out that losing those things was actually better than gaining all the things you thought you needed. I know, it sounds crazy.

Think back to a failure. Let’s go for broke and pick a really big one. And instead of focusing on all the dashed hopes and the self-inflicted derision, I want you to also notice any sense of relief you felt, any sense of joy, any sense of space opening up before you–space that says “I have survived the worst and lived to tell it.”

And, then, after the failure, what sorts of lessons or strength did you take away from it that are still serving you, even now? At the very least, take a moment to notice how you still seem to be alive and moving and you have since managed to accomplish many not-small things since that failure.

I would love for you to stop looking at potential failure as an excuse not to do what you are dying to do. Failure simply means things didn’t go according to plan. That’s not reason not to go ahead and plan on doing it anyways.