What If You Fail for Life?

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“What happens if you just keep failing and never succeed or make money? For life?” My wife asked me this painful and fearful question yesterday. She was referring to the fact that although I’ve been an entrepreneur since 2011, my companies are still not able to generate stable revenues.

“Why don’t you just quit? And take on a teaching job somewhere?” She was referring to the low income I’ve made over the years, and the fact that I’ve actually got a Ph.D, which should land me a professorship somewhere. Well, “anywhere” is better than “nowhere”. That was her message.

Tears started to fill and fell upon my face.

“Because we can help people…” I was almost whispering, thinking about my original intention and motivation in starting up: to create freedom for people and make the world a better place.

In my heart, I knew that because we’ve tried hard to create a unique workplace that allows people to work remotely at home. We have in fact achieved an unconventional work-life style and are able to combine social needs (such as caring for young children) with a professional career.

I personally knew that many of our people would not be able to have the family, or the social, spiritual life they desire, had it not being for our companies. For example, one member performs missionary work aside from being a developer thanks to our flexible culture.

However, that, and other potentially meaningful social benefits still need to answer the question: “what if we fail?” and “what if our model doesn’t continue to work?” And those are hard questions with not just financial, but also career and social status implications.

Then I recalled Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement, when he talked about how at age 17, he heard a saying: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It had a big impact on him.

I realized: the “real” life failure may not be a financial, social status, or reputation one. Because, there’s a real possibility, no matter how small, that we might just die today. We tend to ignore and avoid this fact, but it’s a fact nevertheless.

That fact that we will one day all die, and today might possibly be that day, puts a different perspective on things, at least for Jobs. The question becomes: if you might die today, will “success” “financial stability” “social status” “personal pride” 10 years down the road, still matter?

No they won’t. Most sane people would agree.

Then what should one “really” care for TODAY? If all you have is just one day left?

This question used to puzzle me, because if you have a 10-year plan for your great company like Jeff Bezos and certainly Jobs, you would do certain things today. But if you have just one day to live, most of us likely will do something very different. How to reconcile the different time-scales?

I found a potential answer while reading “One Thing”, where the authors talk about how goals at different time-scales should all be aligned, like a Russian matryoshka doll, where the larger ones hold the smaller ones within another.

For example, your “life” goal should contain your “10-year goal”, which should contain your “5-year” “1-year” “1-quarter” “1-month” goals, which should then contain your “1-week” “1-day”, even “1-hour” goal.

When all your goals are aligned, even if you’re just doing your “one thing” for this particular hour, you know for sure, and in your heart, that you’re aligned to be well on your way towards your future 1-week, 1-month, 1-quarter, 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, and life goals. Like pushing a domino.

This answers the puzzle of how can one be able to live just one day, yet be on his/her way towards some life-long goals or dreams: if all goals at different time-scales are aligned, that is.

So how does this answer my original question? What if I “never” succeed? What if I fail for life?

Well… “success” perhaps isn’t something you finally obtain or achieve, at the end of a 10-year marathon. Although that’s what most people tend to see.

The fact that all of us may lose our precious life “today” should remind us that: what’s truly important isn’t something 10 years down the road, as we will never know for sure if we’ll live to see it.

What’s important today, is whether we’ve lived TODAY, the fullest we can, in alignment with our 10-year or life goals. If we’ve done that, we’ve already “achieved” success.

After all, the 10-year road towards some final, apparent success, is also nothing more than the accumulation of many single days, small incremental achievements along the way.

So what if I did still achieve nothing or do not churn out financial or business “success” at the end of my life?

I’ll never know for sure, and nobody can predict that. All I know is: I’d intend to make today, a day I won’t regret.

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Founder of Joint Commonwealth Inc. (JCF), Co-founder of Imonology Inc. Someone who enjoys to observe, to think, and to create…

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Shun-Yun Hu

Shun-Yun Hu

Founder of Joint Commonwealth Inc. (JCF), Co-founder of Imonology Inc. Someone who enjoys to observe, to think, and to create…

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