Oswald Letter

Don’t let fear keep you from achieving your goals

finish lineby Dan Oswald

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I came across that question in a book the other day, and it really got me thinking. I firmly believe there are many things we don’t try because we’re convinced we won’t succeed. The thinking goes, “Why even go down that road if I know it’s not going to work?” We’re beaten before we even start.

I had a high-school coach who would preach about the body’s unbelievable capabilities—if only your mind would allow the body to perform unbridled. He often talked about what people could do physically if they just overcame their negative thoughts. Roger Bannister, way back in 1954, was the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile. Until he did it, it was widely believed to be impossible. But you know what? Bannister’s record of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds lasted just six weeks. You see, he proved it was possible to run a sub-four-minute mile. Once he proved it—and others believed—the times just kept getting faster. Today, the record stands at 3 minutes 43.13 seconds.

So I ask you, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Think about your answer in the context of your work. What would you set out to do if you knew you would succeed? What new idea would you pursue? What new account would you try to close? What position would you apply for? What person would you try to hire? What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

I love to see people in our company who have a combination of confidence, curiosity, and determination. It’s amazing what people with those three attributes can accomplish. The confidence allows them to pursue ideas or opportunities that others may see as too risky. The curiosity helps them think about new ways to solve old problems, never being satisfied to leave questions unanswered. And the determination causes them to doggedly pursue the right outcome—even if it means starting over countless times. They just don’t quit until they’re successful.

Did you notice I didn’t mention either intelligence or experience? While both are admittedly important, I have found the other attributes are better predictors of success. Now, if you can combine confidence, curiosity, and determination with intelligence and experience, there’s no telling what can be accomplished.

But I think intelligence alone or a vast amount of experience, like any strengths, can also be a weakness. Let me explain. If people are really smart but lack any of the three attributes I’ve listed above, then it’s unlikely they’ll harness their intelligence and use it to excel. The same goes for experience. People with a great deal of experience can fall into a trap by thinking they’ve seen or done everything in a job—“been there, done that.” People with a lot of experience in a position may lose their curiosity or determination. Without them, experience becomes a weakness, not a strength.

It seems to me that an unbridled person—one who is full of confidence and curiosity and is determined to succeed—can accomplish great things. It’s the doubts that creep in and keep us from achieving what we are capable of. Our fear of failure or the embarrassment that might accompany it keeps us from achieving what we are capable of. Our inability to think big thoughts and dream big dreams keeps us from achieving what we are capable of.

Ask yourself today, “What would I attempt to do if I knew I could not fail?” And then go out and try it, believing that you will succeed. You just might be surprised by the results!