When Titanic set sail in the Atlantic Ocean, its captain, Edward John Smith, believed it unsinkable.
Embracing the life of adventure, rejecting a mediocre existence of comfort cushions, Captain Smith set sail on the rough seas, believing in the success of his ship, refusing to embrace the possibility of failure.
Titanic sank to the bottom of the Ocean 106 years ago, April, 1912, and the shock reverberated around the world, and throughout history. The Captain perished with his dream boat.
Awe-inspiring in its vastness, magnificent design, and expensive construction, the sea-seasoned Captain Smith thought never would such a splendid ship sink to the bottom of the sea. He died on the same night the Titanic sank, himself sinking into the Ocean with the massive ship at 2 a.m. on April 15, 1912.
Captain Smith ignored plenty warning messages from other ships that a huge block of iceberg lay in the path of the Titanic. At midnight on April 14, 1912, the ship came upon the cold ice, too late to avert ramming into it. The solid ice block drilled holes into the Titanic, and Captain Smith woke up at midnight to find his ship sinking – with 2,200 passengers on board. He went down with it two hours later.
What caused Captain Smith’s Titanic journey to collapse into such spectacular tragedy?
Captain Smith never believed that the ship, the voyage, or himself as Captain, could fail.
We live in an age when multitudes of happy gurus tell us to always believe success is around the corner, that we should cultivate a mindset of happiness, success, and positive expectations. They tell us to never entertain failure, to reject any negative outcome, to embrace success as a divine right.
It’s the height of foolishness to ignore the fact that failure, negativity, darkness, depression, falling could happen to us at any moment.
Were we to anticipate failure, we would do the hard work of preparation. Preparing to handle any outcome is what life’s all about: we live – like the Scout motto advocates – to Be Prepared. We must prepare for whatever is ahead, and assume it would be the worst outcome, working to mitigate against the impact of disaster, failure, tragedy. Had Captain Smith adopted this attitude and “negative” mindset, maybe his Titanic would still be sailing the seas today.
In life, we face any of three possibilities:
- Mediocrity: the compromise between success and failure
When we look around the world, and even through history, human beings who achieve amazing success stand out as icons. They stand out because they are so few. Most humans, the masses of humanity, fade into anonymity.
Those who fade fear failure, and play it safe in the harbour, never venturing out into the turbulent storms of life, because failure, sinking, fills the heart with dread. Unlike Captain Smith, who never thought his Titanic voyage would end in failure, most of us retreat in fear, refusing to embrace failure. When Captain Smith came face to face with the stark reality that failure is the outcome, he embraced it, sinking with his ship. He did not run away from failure. Mankind remembers him for his immense character, to this day. He did not fade away into anonymity.
Whilst most humans don’t experience massive failure on the grand scale of Captain Smith, the masses of humanity live their lives with mundane mediocrity – to the point of passive, numb, lukewarm existence. Most humans plod along from birth to death in a sort of stupor, never stepping out to even attempt successful lifestyles.
We human beings live in fear of failure. We don’t want to stare the dread of failure full in the face and confront our own shortcomings, inadequacies, disabilities.
So we settle for a life of small comforts, settling into a cushion of our comfort zone. Never mind that this way of life wastes our years on earth, we trade that fear of failure for a life of never attempting to succeed at life. People choose “safety” rather than face the possibility of failure.
So we develop the mindset that we would not fail, because, after all, we don’t take risks that would put us in the dangerous path of possible failure.
Our attitude, mindset and expectation should be that the likely outcome of everything in life is 95% failure, and 5% success – with settling into mediocrity the default compromise of living for nothing, of wasting our days on earth.
We ought to embrace the possibility of failure, because in that embracing, we exercise a crucial value and belief-system: we expect things to go bad, and prepare to deal with the impact, consequences and fallout. Prepared, trained to handle any outcome, to fight, to wrestle the demons of this world in a warfare of blood, sweat and tears, we stand guard, ready to win. Without considering failure, we would laze back in blissful repose, and when the harsh sword of nature slashes at us, we would with surprise be caught off-guard, to suffer – like Hamlet lamented – the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.
Only would we achieve success, when we embrace the possibility that failure is the likely outcome, and only strenuous effort would cause success to be the natural outcome. But, if we end in failure, it’s still worth the journey. Failure we embrace, as an outcome of the fact we dared to live, to dream, to imagine what’s possible, and step out for it.
If success eludes us, and failure is what shows up, then our attitude, mindset and behaviour should be one of embracing the failure as the natural path of life.
In other words, we must come to a place where we love failure, embrace failure, enjoy failing, set out with such big, magnificent, spectacular goals that without superhuman effort, we would fail. A lifetime littered with failures along our path shows that we did not walk an ordinary path: we climbed high, scaled immense height, fly without wings, poets on paths of possibilities. And, yes, we fell and stumbled and bruised ourselves with bloody wounds. But, we stretched ourselves beyond what we’re capable of: we dared to dream, to imagine something great is a possibility, to envision a beautiful life.
Let’s abandon the road of easy mediocrity, slip out of our comfort zone, embrace a life of failures and falling and fear, and tackle the immense possibility of what it means to be a human being.
I write this piece because today I woke up and, in a magnificent epiphany, chose to embrace the possibility that there’s a 95% chance of failing to make this qualped mission a global success story. I cling on with only a 5% chance of success, so big, glorious, impossible is the vision to achieve.
You see, I set out to transform the entity of the book, of how we humans tell our story, of how society engages with Intellectual Property, of how universities develop post-graduate thesis manuscripts, of causing every human being to produce a book in his or her lifetime. Such a dream, like the Titanic, is immensely before its time. To make it happen, we must embrace the likelihood that it would fail, and the slim chance that it could succeed.
Such a magnificent journey is bound to end up in spectacular failure, like a rocket to Space flashing across the night sky as it crumbles into tiny bits to fall back on earth, broken into useless pieces.
I choose this life, and with joy and fun and delight, I embrace the fact that I face a 95% possibility of failure in winning this game that I invented and play with such zeal, enthusiasm and optimistic belief.
But I no longer fear failure in life. I embrace failure. I love it. The only way to live this life is to set out to fail. Only then would we succeed to give humanity new enlightenment.
Henceforth, in my mindset, attitude, behaviour, I delight in failure, fearing nothing anymore, embracing every possibility except mind-numbing mediocrity and passive lukewarm existence.
Like Captain Smith, I am willing to go down with the dream boat, except, unlike Captain Smith, I am expecting it to sink to the bottom, and therefore will anticipate every obstacle that could possibly show up. This negative mindset, of pessimism, expecting obstacles to block my path, that’s the way to the summit of the mountain. To think the path is free of obstacles is foolishness. To expect only nice, positive, pleasant things are ahead is utter foolishness. To fear failure is foolishness. To embrace failure is wisdom. Such is the lesson from the sinking of Captain Smith and his dream boat.