Although I’ve never conducted a scientific poll, I’m pretty certain that most people would deny that they intentionally set out to have a life of failure. On closer inspection, it’s painfully obvious that many people do just that.

One evening I was having dinner with an inventive woman who had created a successful business in the past. When I first met her, it appeared she was looking for her next good idea.

New ideas weren’t where our dinner conversation headed that night, however. Without any prompting from me, she began a long monologue about why it wasn’t a good time for her to start another business. The list of excuses was extensive.

I listened quietly and when it seemed she was done, I said, “Your excuses aren’t even original!”

Afterwards, I wondered how many people are operating from the same excuse list. I decided to keep track and discovered my suspicions were correct: few original excuses exist.

Hardly a day passes when I don’t receive an e-mail that begins with, “I hate my job,” and then goes on to list all the impossibilities that keep them there. There’s fear, of course, although when pressed to explain, it’s usually a rather vague (or irrational) fear.

Some people have gone a step farther and created an imagined scenario that is filled with dreadful outcomes. To paraphrase Lady Holland, “Fears, like babies, grow larger with nursing.”

If someone truly was committed to failure, I mused, what would they need to do? Here’s a Plan to Fail Formula that I came up with.

° Picture it. Consider this observation from Dr. Rob Gilbert: “Losers visualize the penalties of failure; winners visualize the rewards of success.”

Keep your eyes on all the horrible outcomes that could happen to you.

° Build a team. Who’s going to help you fail? Once you identify those people, spend time with them as often as possible. They’ll convince you that you are undeserving.

Misery really does love company so there will be plenty of candidates for your losing team. Should you accidentally encounter a bold dreambuilder, make your scorn evident.

° Rename things. For instance, don’t tell yourself you’re full of excuses. Call such behavior Being Practical.

Got a job that’s driving you crazy? Remind yourself how fortunate you are to even have a job “in this terrible economy.”

° Collect evidence. We all know somebody who took a risk and it didn’t work out. These stories can be extremely useful when you are tempted to take a risk of your own.

° Take a defensive stance. As Richard Bach points out, “Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.” Make a strong case against yourself.

° Avoid exposure. Don’t investigate new things. Keep your reading list short. Make mundane tasks a high priority.

° Make money the boogie man. Money craziness is rampant. It’s a wonderfully handy excuse. Up your commitment to never having enough.

° Amass unsolved problems. The more, the better. If you keep a problem around long enough, you’ll be able to convince yourself that it’s a permanent member of the family.

° Ignore this. Psychologist Abraham Maslow is remembered as the father of the Human Potential Movement. By all means, pay no attention to this observation from him:

If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life. You will be evading your own capabilities, your own possibilities.


15 Responses to “Planning to Fail”

  1. Luna Raven

    What a necessary, yet cheerful, slap in the face for those of us who need it. I admire your honesty, its rather refreshing.

  2. Kathie Kelling

    I’m printing out this article, Barbara, and will use it with my women in recovery class at the half-way house this week. You sure pegged the excuses!

    In appreciation,

  3. Julia Barnickle

    Great advice, Barbara – I’m sold (not!!). It just shows how easy we find it to look at the negative side of things, and how simple it is to flip it around to the positive. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Bonnie Pond


    Thanks for such a witty and thoughtful post. Oh my goodness, I’ve used every one of those excuses before! I have one more to add to the list — pretend it doesn’t matter. Yup, just pretend that you don’t give a rip about success. Who needs it anyway? Stay nice & cozy in that old familiar comfort zone where failure wants to be your best friend.

  5. Barbara Winter

    Oh, yes, Bonnie. Pretend it doesn’t matter is a fabulous excuse. Thanks for adding it to the list.

  6. Sally Evans

    This is a great reminder of how easy it is to talk ourselves out of things we say we want to do.

    It might be fun or at least enlightening to write down some of our own excuses so that when they pop up, we can smile and remember it is just an excuse. And that gives a chance to either ignore it or own up to it.

  7. Anthony St. Clair

    Such a great reminder — and red flag! “If you catch yourself doing any of the following, you just might be planning to fail.” Or just really need to do something to change your spirits that day.

    The “just be thankful to have a job” is a matter of perspective. Sure, be thankful for what you’ve got. But don’t let that stop from making sure that what you have is what’s right for you, what’s best for you, either. If you have a job and it’s not fitting what you need and want, then be grateful you have a job that you can use to springboard to something better — if you’re willing to go for it.

  8. Anna Barlowe

    I got tired of hearing myself make all those old excuses, so I finally quit my job and am happily blogging and starting a jewelry business while doing contract work for my former employers. Somehow it all worked out, but not until I was willing to find a new model for my life and let go of my fears. I recommend it! 🙂

  9. Barbara Winter

    Thank you, all, for adding such great comments to this post. Much appreciated.

  10. Tim Grover

    I’m rereading “Making a Living without a Job” right now (and even doing the questions this time!) as I temp for a few more days at a job so boring I’m ready to plunge a screwdriver into my cranium. This post dovetails perfectly with your book. And it will be handy for dreamkillers everywhere. Thanks and well done!

  11. Barbara Winter

    Tim, there’s something great thing about temp work and it might make your stay there more interesting. The big thing I learned as a temp is that even idiotic, boring and mistake-ridden operations can survive. I found that most inspiring since I wasn’t planning to do anything idiotic, boring or intentionally stupid in my own business! So look for the inspiration. It might just be a powerful reminder that you’ve got more than enough to work with to create marvelous success.

  12. Susan O'Neil

    I walked away from my job 3 weeks ago, no new job lined up, no plan but to escape from the trap of a job i felt i was in.
    I have been searching the net to find some meaning out there.
    Your post today has really hit home, i will be forging forward and not look back.

  13. Barbara Winter

    Bravo, Susan! So do you have your very own copy of Making a Living Without a Job? It’s a good starting place.

  14. Susan O'Neil

    Just a follow up to my previous post. I have spent the day reading the 1993 version of
    Making a living without a Job, it has many, many great ideas, so tonight I will be purchasing the updated version. No need to stop the inspiration now!

  15. Barbara

    Hooray, hooray, Susan. The new version even includes the Internet! Plus there are terrific, up to date resources for further exploration.

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