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.


Yesterday afternoon I spent a fair amount of time replying to an e-mail from a man who wrote to tell me that he was tired of his corporate job and wanted to become self-employed. So far, so good.

Then he went on to give me all the reasons why this was impossible. He had a large family to support, he was too exhausted when he got home from work to get something going, etc. etc. There wasn’t anything very original about his list.

I wrote back and said, “Just from what you told me, I think you may be getting ahead of yourself. Of course, it seems overwhelming to make a life transition when you’re already booked and committed.

“Do you have a clear idea about what sort of business you’d like to start? Can you find even 30 minutes a day to start laying the groundwork? Have you got written goals? Can you get family support for making a lifestyle change? Seems to me, your next step is to plan your transition…not decide it can’t be done.”

What I wanted to tell him, but didn’t, was that he called to mind Richard Bach’s observation: “Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.”

I had barely hit the send button on my message when my phone rang. The call was from Paul, a man I’d met several years ago when he attended my seminars in San Francisco.

At the time, Paul was working at a government job, not so happily married, and longing to travel. I remember how somber and sad he seemed.

When I heard from him next, he had quit his job, left his bad marriage and was focusing on making his living from travel.

It was fun to watch as Paul began building his business teaching various travel seminars he’d created. At first, he focused on teaching in his home state of California. The next year he went national and was zipping around the country sharing information on living abroad and getting the most out of traveling like a local.

When Paul’s parents became ill, he suspended his travel activities to care for them. In the past year, both his mother and father had died and Paul is planning his next chapter.

He told me about his immediate plans to study French in Montreal and spend time on a Semester at Sea.  As he was sharing his excitement about his new adventures, I kept thinking about my e-mail correspondent who felt so trapped.

Cynics would point out that Paul does not have the same obligations as the other fellow so, obviously, he can gallivant around. Cynics would be missing the point.

In our long catch-up chat, Paul told me that he really didn’t have any long-term plans. He was focusing on his upcoming travels. “I’m not worried. Having the experience of starting my business gave me so much confidence,” he said, “that I know I can do it again.”

It’s an observation I’ve heard over and over again from my self-employed friends. Why then, I wonder, is Paul’s discovery such a well-kept secret? And why do so many people treat self-employment like a spectator sport?

Maybe the answer to those perplexing questions can be found in these words from an anonymous source: A willing heart will find a thousand ways. An unwilling heart will find a thousand excuses.

Or perhaps Paul has discovered what Chris Rock pointed out in an interview last week on CBS Sunday Morning. “Being rich is not about having a lot of money,” Rock said. “Being rich is about having a lot of options.”