How to Fail Big

cindy project eric kim mask
NYC, 2016 #cindyproject

Dear friend,

I want to write you a letter on the importance of dreaming big, and failing big.

Life is too short for you to think small.

One of the greatest things about being a human being is our capacity to dream. Our capacity to think of ideas that take us to the moon (literally).

At Google, they call this “moonshot thinking.” Rather than thinking of small incremental advancements, seek to make 10x improvements. To either innovate and create something totally new, or to either take what already exists, and make it 10x better.

Don’t limit your mind

The great thing about thinking big is that you break out your cage of self-imposed limits.

You never know what you’re capable of, unless you push your limits. And the sky is the limit.

The zen of powerlifting

One of the things I am passionate about is powerlifting. Essentially the concept is to try to lift the maximum weight you can (once).

Generally the lifts include deadlift, squat, and benchpress.

I’m a big fan of the deadlift, because (for me) it is the safest exercise to lift a heavy weight. I’ve injured myself in bench press a lot in the past (shoulders are prone to injury), and you also need someone to “spot” you. I’m a big fan of squats, but the problem with squats is that if you don’t have the proper equipment, it is hard to attempt higher weights.

A deadlift is simple. You have a heavy barbell on the ground, and you just try to lift it up to waist-level.

For me, deadlifting (and powerlifting) is less about my body — it is more about my mind. It is about pushing my limits. It is about trying to make small incremental improvements over a long period of time.

For example, when I do deadlifts, I try to increase my weight by at least 5 pounds each week. Some weeks I increase my maximum lift, and some weeks I don’t.

But over the last 10 years (I started deadlifting at 18, now I’m 28) I increased my maximum weight from 135 lbs to 425+ lbs. My goal was always to deadlift “4 plates” (four 45lb plates on each side of the bar), and once I hit that goal, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I thought I would never be able to do that much. But even now, I’m still constantly pushing my limits — and it has amazed me how my body hasn’t stopped adapting.

Going to Mars with Elon Musk

One of my biggest inspirations of “moonshot thinking” is Elon Musk. He literally plans on taking humankind to Mars. Talk about thinking big.

Not only that, but he has already taken humankind to the next level — with renewable energy, SolarCity, and Tesla.

How did Elon Musk do it? With “first principles” — a physics principle. The concept is this: you question the “laws” of the universe from ground-up. You don’t think via analogies, comparisons, or metaphors. Rather, you start off your thinking “blank slate” and challenge all your own assumptions.

So in practical terms, if you want to start your own business, don’t study what others have done before you. Otherwise you won’t innovate. You will just copy what others have done before you.

Rather, you want to dream big, and take massive action in your life to make your dream happen.

Shoot for the stars

The way to dream big? Don’t be afraid to “fail big”.

The bigger your dreams, the bigger your chance of failing. And that is okay. It is better to fail big, than to never try at all.

Not only that, but if you’re shooting for the stars, it is better to lose fuel in the air, than never leaving the ground.

How to fail big

Of course I don’t want to give all this inspirational hoo-ha without giving some practical ideas and tips. Here are some things which I have been trying to integrate into my life, to “fail big”:

1. Put yourself on the same level as the titans

Some of my biggest inspirations include Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. They’ve been able to innovate in technology and the arts — probably 100x more than any “normal” person.

I always think about them, read their interviews, and study what they’ve done.

I try to put myself on their level. This helps me break out of my small cage of thinking. It helps me think “at scale”. It helps me think of how I can better empower humanity.

Not only that, but I realize that these guys have failed big. Elon Musk was on the verge of bankruptcy after Space X failed some major launches. Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple, and his “Next” computer company was also on the verge of bankruptcy.

2. Adjust yourself to poverty

The biggest fear we have of failure isn’t being seen as a “failure” — but it is death.

We fear that we will fail, our loved ones will depart us, we will become homeless, and we will starve to death.

But honestly, very few people ever die anymore due to hunger. There are millions of malnourished people — but if anything, most of the world dies from issues dealing with obesity, not poverty.

I have an irrational fear of dying — where all my fears come from.

But honestly, the worst that will ever happen is poverty. And I grew up not knowing if my mom could pay rent each month, and if we’d become homeless. And honestly, I was still fine.

Even nowadays, I try to live below my limits— in “simulated” poverty.

For example, for a week, I did nothing but literally eat eggs, drink water and coffee, and not going out. In the states, I can buy 12 eggs for around $2. Water is practical free. And coffee (my luxury) can be bought for around $1-2 a cup.

And honestly, I was fine. As long as I had access to free wifi (often included at coffee shops) I could still do my creative work.

So I often think to myself— why do I fear failure? Do I fear poverty?

But by living in “simulated poverty” — I have mentally adjusted myself to the “worst case scenario” — and honestly, it isn’t so bad.

3. 1% daily improvement

To think big, it is a slow and arduous climb. But the important thing is to always put one foot in front of the other, and steadily climb uphill.

I see life as a long and arduous hike, rather than just a short sprint.

If you can continue to improve yourself, your mind, your ideas, your business, your photography, your art by 1% on a daily basis— you will be able to climb to the highest heights after a few years.

This means to be patient, to think in terms of decades, not years.

And paradoxically, it means to also always think about death. To not waste a single day. To think that each day is literally your last day on earth. And that means that you spend each day making that 1% improvement in life, and marching forwards.

Conclusion: Think bold

Be bold and fearless. What do you have to fear? You won’t die. The worst that will happen is others will criticize you and make fun of you.

But wouldn’t you rather be someone who thought really big, and failed big, rather than never tried?

Anyone who tries to “fail big” is heroic. Anyone who criticizes you is just a coward, who was too afraid to think big (and even more afraid of failing).

Be strong,

Learn more: Entrepreneurship >

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