An Abject Fear of Failure

I’m currently reading Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football by John U. Bacon. (The book really should be called “Three and Out: How Everyone Involved in Michigan Football Tried to Systematically Sabotage Rich Rodriguez.”) While reading, I highlighted this quote on my Kindle:

The best competitors are motivated less by a desire to win than an abject fear of failure. At the highest levels, even one loss diminishes them in some deeply personal way. For them, a victory is not a victory. It is simply a loss avoided. Rodriguez was squarely in that category.

My partners and I are all pretty fiercely competitive. Maybe not as much as a college football coach (the best of whom are maybe the most competitive people on earth), but certainly closer on a competitive spectrum to a coach than we are to your average 9-5er.

We want to build the very best business that we can. Every. Single. Day. And “best” isn’t just about money, it’s about culture and happiness and enjoying what you spend most of your waking life doing. I know for myself personally, “losing” – a decrease in sales, employees leaving us, etc – scares the crap out of me. The business itself failing even more so. I can lose sleep just thinking about that happening.

We are obsessed with not losing. I think that mostly this is a good thing. To counterbalance things, we make sure we always compliment each others’ good work, and that we set aside times to celebrate our successes. For instance, at our holiday party this past year, we put up a slide of about 10 amazing things we accomplished in 2012. We spent about 20 minutes walking through them and attempting to put into context just how impressive each one was. We then went out and celebrated with a nice dinner.

But that was that, and the next day we got back to focusing on doing the things necessary to win our next game. Patting yourself on the back for too long is a surefire way to put yourself out of business. Somewhat paradoxically, being scared shitless of failing is often the best way to succeed.