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What If You Couldn’t Succeed?

Sometimes when we’re stuck, the well-meaning person we’re talking to might ask us, “What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”

And this is a good question, as many of us are afraid of failure in our endeavors, so if we imagine a world where the possibility of failure is completely removed, this might get us moving forward in a way we hadn’t thought of yet. It opens possibilities for us.

But, earlier this week, I flipped this question around, and asked myself “What would I do if I couldn’t succeed?”

I imagined a world in which I somehow knew for certain that I would never succeed. Specifically, I was think about writing fiction and being able to support myself fully from that one day, which is a non-goal that I have. 😉

I asked myself, “If I somehow knew for certain that I could never, ever succeed in writing fiction and having a full-time income come from that, what would I do? How would I go about writing/publishing? How would I live my life?” And almost immediately, I felt a sense of freedom and relief.

In a nutshell, if I knew I could never succeed with writing, I would do whatever I wanted to do. 🙂 I would follow my creativity and inspiration wherever it lead. I wouldn’t worry and fret about this and that not happening. I would experiment, I would take risks, I would do things because I was interested in them or because I wanted to learn more or because I simply enjoyed them.

I might not ever succeed, but I would never fully fail either.

Whereas the question “What would you do if you couldn’t fail?” removes the fear of failure, the question “What would you do if you couldn’t succeed?” removes the barriers to following your inspiration, taking risks, and being as creative as you can be.

Frankly, these are the same questions, just asked in a completely opposite way. Two sides to the same coin.

If I could never succeed, then I would do things that creatively excited me, even if I thought it possible that it wouldn’t make a big splash with readers.

If I could never succeed, then I wouldn’t worry so much about making mistakes, since they would make no difference anyway. I wouldn’t worry about not having this or not having that. I would just work with what I had right now, knowing that, at least in this moment, it’s enough. And that when I did need more, I would get it.

If I could never succeed, then I would take breaks and live the other parts of my life whenever I felt that I needed to, because writing/publishing wouldn’t have to be this gray cloud that hung over my life all the time, mocking me because I hadn’t “made it” yet. I have an entire life to live, and writing is just a part of it. It would be a shame if I could never truly enjoy my life as a whole. But, if I could never succeed, then I can fully participate and be present to all parts of my life, which is quite a gift.

For all the striving that I’ve done, I’m not really sure that it’s gotten me anywhere, and along the way, I forgot to look out the windows and enjoy the scenery.

Because the real truth is, I might never succeed, and if that happens, I don’t want to have put all my eggs into this one part of my life and have ignored/avoided everything else. Because no matter how much I enjoy writing/publishing, it’s not my life, it’s not who I am, it’s not Me. I’m Me.

So, if I could never succeed, then I’m actually free to fail and be present to the process along the way. And that is all I can ask for.

I would hate to get to the end of my life and be disappointed because I didn’t achieve something, as if that was the only marker for a life well lived. And let’s face it folks, at the end, you’re going anyway, and when you’re gone, everything that you’ve done or didn’t do, doesn’t matter anymore. Like the expression says, “There are no pockets in shrouds.”

But, if I’m free to fail, then I’ll write that story that a lot of people might not like, because I enjoy writing it and there are at least a few people who will enjoy reading it.

If I’m free to fail, then when I’m writing the story that a lot of people might not like, and I want to write something that might not work, or that’s too outrageous, or that will get criticized, I’ll write it anyway, because I’m experimenting and seeing where that takes me.

If I’m free to fail, and learning something new in the publishing/promotion process, I’ll just do it, even if I feel like I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. Because I can learn along the way, and change things as necessary. It’s not that big of a deal.

So if you’ve tried asking yourself how you would live if you couldn’t fail, and couldn’t quite get moving the way that you would like, you might want to try asking yourself how you would live if you couldn’t succeed, and see where that takes you.

I could also just be really weird. 😉 But flipping this question around has brought me a freedom that I hadn’t found before, and ultimately, gives me a new lens through which to look at my life.

So if you knew, for certain, without a doubt, that no matter what you did you couldn’t succeed? What would you do?



Published inInspiration


  1. Excellent point. How often people seem to shackle themselves to the supposed specific requirements of “success” at the expense of truly creating what they want.

    Ironically, by proceeding as though one can’t succeed, one may be free enough to create something truly unique that could in turn succeed anyway.

    Perhaps in the end it’s about one definition of success as opposed to other, more popular ones…

  2. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Ty – Yes, exactly. I’ve had the thought since I posted this that maybe I’m not as motivated by achievement and success as I thought I was. I think I may be more motivated by freedom and going my own way when I want to. 🙂

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