November 10, 2022

Embrace the possibility of success rather than the probability of failure


Most businesses don’t work.

The expected return of almost every company at the beginning is alarmingly close to zero.

Entrepreneur magazine reported that one quarter of startups fail within their first year, half of the remaining fail within five years, and thirty percent of the remaining in the last ten years.

Sorry to be such a downer, but apparently it doesn’t matter which industry you are pursuing. In any given business, there are tons of countervailing forces constantly working against you.

And yet, as astonishing as it seems that anyone would ever start a company, over a half a million new businesses are launched each year. Apparently low odds are not enough to extinguish the entrepreneurial spirit.

Now, if you’re thinking about becoming one of those owners, here’s the question you should ask yourself:

Are you willing to embrace the possibility of success rather than the probability of failure?

This is the attitudinal distinction that separates the winners from the losers.

My name for the tool is called contexting, which is a filter for relating to reality that determines your creative responses to situations that are different, not just better. Contexting is how you overcome career plateaus and the dissatisfaction that accompanies them. It’s the mindset that gives you the highest likelihood of develop a fulfilling, sustainable career.

Maybe this is what makes entrepreneurs such compelling and courageous figures. It’s not the money or the power or the ambition, it’s the will. It’s the fact that almost everyone who attempts to do what they’re about to do, doesn’t make it out alive.

They’re fine with that.

Willing to escape the prison of statistical likelihood, they will bet on themselves and pursue their vision anyway.

My father, after twenty years of working at a successful closeout business, decided to strike out on his own. He parted company with his corporate owners in the early nineties and incorporated as a small business.

In that first year, he worked out of our basement, struggling to build inventory, scrambling to find buyers. I vividly remember being about twelve years old when my dad took me on a field trip to tour his new company warehouse.

It was the single biggest building I’d ever seen. Three hundred thousand square feet.

But the place was a ghost town. There was no merchandise yet. Except for one this one palette of goods. One lonesome skid of inventory in the middle of the floor, shrink wrapped to perfection, with a big white sign on it that read, sold.

Suddenly, success was possible, no matter how improbable it felt. They had a long way to go to fill up the rest of that warehouse, but damn it if they weren’t on their way.

That whole mantra that the journey of a thousand miles starting with one step, this is what the mystics were talking about.

Sure enough, my father spent the second twenty years of his career growing the business into an industry leader. The business defied the odds while many of his competitors and colleagues fell by the wayside during difficult economic times.

And by the time he reached retirement age, they ultimately liquidated that business and came out clean on the other side the freedom of never having to worry about running a company ever again.

Phew. Talk about exhaling.

These are the kinds of stories you don’t hear that often. Because so many businesses fail. Entrepreneurs end up dying alone with little adventure to speak of.

But for those brave people who are willing to suspend the disbelief of the probable and instead consider what is possible, there is no telling what they can do.

If you’re thinking about taking the plunge and starting your own thing, here is my recommendation.

Create a new context for yourself.

Figure out how to relate to reality in a way so that you embrace the possibility of success instead of the probability of failure.

Of course, don’t be so enthusiastic that you dream of futures that are not credible. You don’t want to waste years of your life on something that will never materialize outside of your own head.

But remember that the probability is zero if you do not try at all.

Are you imagining an improbable, yet possible future?