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July 04, 2008

"I'm Not Going to Risk Failure on the Possible Chance of Success."

Turtle Shell

It seemed appropriate to write this post on Independence Day.

Blogger James Chartrand of Men With Pens writes a very 'arrow through our entrepreneurial heart' blog post when he asks:

Are you setting yourself up for failure before even trying for success?

Think about it. How many times have you said, “Okay. I’ll try… but I don’t think it’s going to work.” You give it a skeptical shot. When your attempt doesn’t produce miraculous results, you throw up your hands and say, “See? I told you it wouldn’t work!”


"Most people aren’t willing to risk failure, embarrassment or loss on the chance that success, pride and gain might occur.

Funny, that. We want the good stuff, but we aren’t willing to take risks to achieve goals. We avoid potential success because potential failure is worse.

So we protect ourselves with skepticism. We take no action because action is risky. We don’t put ourselves forward because where we are is okay. We don’t take chances because we can’t control the outcome. We won’t have faith because misplaced trust can be painful.

We don’t want to get hurt."

There are many people, myself included, who will help you dispatch the naysayers, those 'others', professors, colleagues, and more who will make you feel like you can't possibly succeed as a solo practitioner.  But how do you deal with your internal voice, that nagging voice inside your head which tries to quell your enthusiasm, your entrepreneurial spirit and rob you of those opportunities which present themselves, repeating over and over...'I won't succeed as a solo practitioner.'

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."   Bill Cosby 

Taking any risk is never easy.  That's why they call it a risk.  There is a definable downside if you don't succeed.  But what is the cost to your spirit not to take calculated risks in this life?


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James Chartrand - Men with Pens

If you take no risks, you will never know exactly what you can do - and learn that if you *do* fail, you can always get back to that point of success. Older, wiser, smarter.

Each time you risk, you learn. You give yourself the gift of security that you can build this again - well, at least to this point.

I wouldn't turn my back on that for the world.

Thanks for the post, Susan. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Jerry Bartholomew

Today is my own personal independence day. After months of unproductive negotiations with my previous employer, I am as of today a solo by choice. I have a handful of clients, a marketable skill set, and the ability to swallow hard and ignore that pit in my stomach. This Independence Day is a turning point in my life and I want to acknowledge the virtual support of Susan, the good people at Solosez, Enrico Schaefer, and countless others who have blogged about their journeys to solo practice. Being a solo does not mean being alone. Thanks for the great post, Susan, and so many others that have helped me and so many others to develop the strength to put aside doubts and make "independence days" possible.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Jeremy, Congratulations! I'm thrilled this post resonated with you on such an important day of your life.

And you are absolutely correct. There is a tremendous virtual world of support so going solo never has to mean 'being alone.' And with the economy heading where it is...the virtual world is going to become even more important in your ability to build a vibrant support system and succeed in your practice.

Please keep us posted and we very much welcome you to the discussion.

Come back often!


I know this post is meant to be motivational, but it dangerously discounts the risk of going solo in the guise of avoiding some esoteric “cost to your spirit”.

“We want the good stuff, but we aren’t willing to take risks to achieve goals. We avoid potential success because potential failure is worse.” Mr. Chartrand says this as if it is patently unreasonable. “Potential failure” is not the same as “fear”. “Potential failure” is real failure that hasn’t happened yet. And when it does, it does more than simply teach us a lesson for next time. What if there is no next time?

What if the lesson you learn is "your children need your financial stability to eat"?

What if, instead of a “naysayer”, there is a spouse or relative who believed in you until your failing practice drives him or her into personal financial peril?

You have no idea how much I would love to go solo, and maybe see my baby boy when he was awake for a change. As this blog has mentioned multiple times, I am going to miss participating in so much of his life because I can’t control my schedule. It will cost my spirit dearly.

But I can’t. Sure I would see him more. But what if I couldn’t afford good health insurance or pay our rent? What good would it do? Risk aversion is not always “fear of getting hurt.” For a lot of us, it’s “fear of hurting others.” Sometimes stability is more important than self-satisfaction. Please be careful not to generalize too much in the future; reading this post made me feel bad about myself.

James Chartrand - Men with Pens

Hey Tom,

I didn't mean for my comments to make you feel bad about yourself, but think of it this way: the fact you feel something shows that you care about this a great deal. It tells me you love your child and your family and that you want something better for him.

Good. That's excellent.

It also tells me you feel stuck and that you wish you could do something different. But that's what we're saying – you can.

Imagine the difference your child will feel growing up knowing that his father was there and present. Laughing. Smiling. Relaxed. Not stuck in some nameless office working long hours.

Trust me, I know how you feel. I have two children of my own – a teen and a toddler. My teen remembers long hours, rushed suppers and my being gone a lot in a corporate job. But my toddler knows me now - that I'm more present, that I'm happy and that I'm *there* for her.

Potential failure does strike fear in many people. In fact, most people take no action at all – better the devil you know than the devil you don't. Risk is part of achieving your goals, Tom. Avoiding potential success is, from my perspective, patently unreasonable for one reason: we need to change our way of thinking.

We need to understand that to have what we want, risk is present, but so is the potential and opportunity for so much better. And if we fail? If we screw up? Hey – we learned a lot, and we can start over that much wiser.

Personally, that's a lesson I want to teach my kids: that it's okay to be scared and that it's okay to try and that it's okay to fail, because you get so much out of that experience.

What if? I know those too. What if my kids don't eat next week? Tim, I'm a freelance writer. That possibility is very high in my industry, especially in web content. But I won't let that stop me, and the confidence level that mindset gives me has allowed success.

I have not failed because I believe I can do this. And I am not missing participating in my child's life because I control mine, 100%.

I understand that my words often hit hard. I apologize for that – but at the same time, I'm glad they resonated with you. I think acknowledging that you're not in the best place and want to be somewhere else is the beginning of at least thinking about changing your life. For the better.

That's a start. No?

Susan Cartier Liebel


First, thanks for joining the discussion and sharing so thoughtfully.

I'm sorry you felt bad. But as James pointed at, this issue strikes a chord with you and you feel it deeply. I also noticed you have an .edu on your e-mail. Are you currently a law student?

The anxiety you voiced is present with every single person I consult, but so is the excitement at the opportunity to build something of their own creation and be present to share in those life events they identify as being missed when employed by another.

They have spouses who believe in them, kids they need to support, bills they need to pay. It's not that easy to walk away from the perception of job security.

What happens, though, when you don't walk away because you are afraid of letting others down..but then you are laid off unexpectedly and the options to get a similar job at similar pay with similar benefits aren't there?

There are just as many successful solos who became solos not by choice. But they stayed solos by design. Failure was simply not an option for them regardless their fear.

Everyone feels differently about risk, fear, failure and what percentage of each they are willing to take on, how much their psyche can handle. But employment, especially in this economy, is not always the security blanket it once was. But the trade offs for this perceived security are legendary.

I've learned over four decades, I'm my best financial security by far. And the solos who succeed relish their success because they made it happen.

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