030 The Anatomy of a Failure

Greetings, hero!

Today, I want to teach you a very important lesson: how to completely fail at your goal by just about every conceivable metric, in three easy steps.

First: design the perfect plan. Make the best estimations with the best advisors, calling on the most skilled teachers and foremost experts to help double check every calculation and prediction. Bring in every big name and PhD until your plan has more degrees than fahrenheit and the unanimous support of every guru and subject matter expert. With the perfect plan in place, you’re ready to begin.

Second: begin work. Start using the plan laid out in step one. Make minor tweaks to the plan in order to get started on time, before realizing you need to make some major tweaks after starting. Question the design of the whole thing. Complete phase one of the plan before discovering you made a major estimation error that will stop you from working on the project as planned. Realize you’re already way behind your schedule.

Third: Get publicly criticized for the shortcomings of the plan everyone agreed to. Make major last minute changes to the plan your experts approved in order to get moving on your goal. Fire your team of experts and hire a whole different team that changes your methods entirely. Finally, finish the project, ten years late and more than 1,000% over budget.

As you can clearly see, by just about every measurable source of information, the above project was a complete and abysmal failure. It took more than twice as long as originally planned, wasn’t even close to being the original design, and was more than 10 times more expensive than they originally thought it would be!

Of course, the above three steps aren’t just how you can create your own failure—it’s an approximation of the real-life story of the creation of the Sydney Opera House. Sure, it might fool you today, with it’s beautiful, sweeping arches, iconic look, and city-defining silhouette. But don’t get caught up in the sheer size of it’s beauty—remind yourself, that it is, in fact, a failure

Or maybe there’s something else worth remembering here—a lesson about what really makes a failure. Not something taking 10 years longer than you thought it would… Not something being literally 1,000% more expensive than you originally planned… Not having to face public shame and criticism for two decades… None of those things make a failure. 

So if you find yourself today just a little behind schedule on your goal… Or a lot behind schedule, or over budget, or way further behind then you would like to be… Remember: there’s only one step to failure. Just one thing you have to do to turn all the tragedies into the final tragedy: giving up. 

May the road rise up to meet you!

The Mentor

The Letter from the Mentor is a weekly letter of encouragement and inspiration from your favorite old wizard, archetypal figure The Mentor. Full of advice, stories, and cheerful good will, the Letter from the Mentor is a weekly reflection on the greatest heroes of our time and those times before. You can read more letters below or sign up to get them in your inbox every Tuesday morning here:

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