Get Started, Fail a Lot, and Then Try Something Else

photo by tableatny – click for info

This post first ran in March 2011.

You’re at a track meet. You’ve got a paper number pinned to your chest and you’ve got on some crazy colored spandex.

You pump your heels up and down. You stretch, side to side. You eye up the competition.

On cue, all the runners approach the starting line. You carefully place your snazzy Nikes into the starting blocks, you breathe deep, you gaze ahead. You wait.

Mere seconds feel like a lifetime.


the gun shot! And you’re off! The race has started. You bolt down the track, legs pumping up and down, arms pushing you faster and faster.

Starting is not something you thought about it. It was a reflex. A reaction to the stimulus of the gun shot.

Some people have this natural reaction to the gun shot of a great idea.

A great idea can take a self-starter from sitting on her ass to creating all night long. A great idea can start a business in a day, create a piece of art in an hour, write a story in a month.

But somewhere along the line of Western education and corporate employment, most people were told that their natural reaction to starting needed to be suppressed. Jumping off the blocks at the sound of the gun was not allowed.

Instead endless meetings, countless hours of research, focus groups, and manager vetting had to come first. Then someone else would start.

You may have guessed by now that I’m not too excited about that model. There’s not much to get excited about.

I get excited about starting. About trying. About experimenting.

I get excited about allowing myself to try new things and fail at most of them.

And that’s why I’m excited about Seth Godin’s book, Poke the Box. In it, Godin explores all the fears and obstacles that we have been conditioned to feel about the idea of “starting something” – initiating.

What’s on your “allowed list?” What’s missing?

One idea that really struck a chord with me was the idea of an “allowed list.” He says:

Most employees can give you a long list of all the things they’re not allowed to do. Not-allowed lists exist in schools, in relationships, and in jobs…

It’s interesting that the allowed list is harder to remember and to write down. I think we might be afraid of how much freedom we actually have, and how much we’re expected to do with that freedom.

Right on, Mr. Godin.

One place that a “not allowed” list has no place in is your personal relationship with yourself and your great work.

Or, I suppose, you’re allowed one rule: You’re not allowed to do that which doesn’t work for you.

And because “allowed lists” are so difficult to remember and write down, I decided to create a short and simple one for you.

Download it.
Print it. Tack it up. Share it.

This is your list. You are allowed to start, to fail, to do things your way, to stop preparing and start doing. You are allowed.

Now more than ever before.

Take advantage.

8 thoughts on “Get Started, Fail a Lot, and Then Try Something Else

  1. I so needed to read this today. I recently started a blog and I have all these ideas for posts but nothing expanded on. I have been wanting to try two new things in particular, researched them but I’m still waiting for the conditions to “just right” to start. I am so afraid of failing, I’m not even starting. Thanks for this. Needed to see this in black and white.

  2. Thank you for this perfectly-timed post today! I’m recovering from a neck injury that has caused me to have to rethink my entire working future. I’ve spent the past months recovering and wondering what “crazy scheme” to reinvent myself that I would come up with this time and really beating myself up about it all. Yesterday “it” hit me like a ton of bricks and then I immediately spent the rest of the day and night doubting my stroke of insight. I’ll not be deterred after reading this now and will print it out and post it where I can read it constantly. Thank you for your words of encouragement and wisdom on a day that I really needed them!!

  3. Today in my Life Appreciation class we were talking about Completion and how we get so much energy and motivation when we want to start something and then we slowly love motivation and drive. We were discussing how to get back the gumption that he have on the first day of our diets or plans. :-) This post was great timing. <3

  4. Thanks for this. I’ve always had major issues over what I’m allowed to do due to a lot of repression in childhood. A common problem. Writing out this list myself, although rebellious, would not have had the same impact ie: cicumventing my own limits. So now its going up on my wall, MUCH bigger, and more colourful. Hey I’m an artist and colour is fun. We’re allowed. :) I’ll set myself the obligation to share a photo here when its done.

  5. I am a community college academic advisor. I printed this for my office because I think it’s a great reminder to myself everyday that I don’t need to have an impressive job with a big paycheck to be happy. It’s also a great message to students who are just starting out on their collegiate journey :)

  6. Mm, this makes me want to step up my game and finish all those things I have on the go. Quickly. To get them out there and see what happens.

    Thank you.

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