How often do you dare to fail greatly?

Today is May 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you dare to fail greatly?” Translating dreams into action is synonymous with daring to fail greatly. It would be difficult to find someone who navigated the chaos or practiced the art of living well who never dared to fail greatly. For many people daring to fail greatly became a lifetime pursuit. Doing so allowed them to build up a character able to withstand even the strongest of storms.

  • Have you dared to fail greatly in love?

  • Have you dared to fail greatly in your education?

  • Have you dared to fail greatly in your physical pursuits?

  • Have you dared to fail greatly in publishing that book you wanted to write?

  • Have you dared to fail greatly in writing poetry?

  • Have you dared at all?

Abraham Lincoln is one such example of someone who dared to fail greatly. Below is a summary of his failures:

  • 1832 lost job

  • 1832 defeated for legislature

  • 1833 failed in business

  • 1834 elected to legislature

  • 1835 sweetheart (Ann Rutledge) died

  • 1836 had nervous breakdown

  • 1838 defeated for speaker

  • 1843 defeated for nomination for Congress

  • 1846 elected to congress

  • 1848 lost re-nomination

  • 1849 rejected for land officer

  • 1854 defeated for senate

  • 1856 defeated for nomination for vice-president

  • 1858 again defeated for senate

  • 1860 elected President

Twenty-eight years. That’s how long Lincoln dared to fail greatly. And here you are worried about dealing with 28 hours, days, or months. Try daring to fail greatly for 28 years; and doing so without any guarantee of success.


Much like Lincoln a century before, Italian-born American molecular geneticist Mario Renato Capecchi dared to fail greatly and in doing so achieved greatness. Capecchi was the only child of an abusive father and a caring mother. When Capecchi was around three years of age, German officers arrested his mother and sent her to a concentration camp, leaving Capecchi to fend for himself. For a time, he lived with a family friend but when money ran out to support him, young Capecchi wandered around the streets of wartime Italy for several years.


He “survived on scraps, joined gangs and drifted in and out of orphanages, and eventually had to be hospitalized for a year probably due to typhoid.” After five six years of being apart, Capecchi was reunited with his mother. With the help of relatives, they moved to the United States where Capecchi enrolled a Quaker boarding school. He would eventually graduate from Antioch College and then enroll in MIT’s graduate program to study physics and mathematics. While at MIT he became interested in molecular biology and transferred to Harvard to join the lab of James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Capecchi received his PhD in biophysics in 1967 and until 1973 held various faculty positions at Harvard but grew increasingly alarmed at its results-driven environment.


Despite objections from Watson, who once quipped, “Capecchi accomplished more as a graduate student than most scientists accomplish in a life time and that he would be fucking crazy to pursue his studies anywhere other than in the cutting-edge intellectual atmosphere of Harvard.” Capecchi left Harvard to join a new department at the University of Utah in 1973. He believed that the short-term gratification environment at Harvard limited his ability to breathe if he was to do great work. Robert Kennedy noted “only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Capecchi dared greatly and would go on to win the Nobel Prize and become a distinguished professor of human genetics and biology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.


Both Lincoln and Capeechi learned to navigate the chaos of life and practice the art of living well by daring to fail greatly. As American spiritual teacher Ram Dass noted “Without remaining open to change, we cannot remain open to life.” Lincoln and Capeechi dared to fail, remained open to change, and remained open to life.


· How often do you dare to fail greatly?

· What, or who, is holding you back from daring to fail greatly?

· What are you afraid of if you fail?