Cant Afford to Fail

When We Can’t Afford to Fail, We Succeed

Derek Perspectives 46 Comments

Cant Afford to Fail
Four months ago, I received an email from a customer who had purchased one of the eBooks that I have written. The email said…

I can’t download your eBook. Every time I go to the download page, I get a message stating that you haven’t been notified of my payment yet and to check back later. But my payment already went through.

That’s weird, I thought. I checked the system and the payment had indeed gone through. This had never happened before. I concluded that it must be a fluke. So I just emailed the customer directly with the eBook as an attachment. Done.

Or so I assumed.

Later that day, I received another email from a new customer who couldn’t access the eBook. The next day, yet another one. And before I knew it, every single customer who was purchasing this particular eBook, was suddenly not able to download it for some reason.

I had a problem that needed fixing.

For one week straight, I tried to use all of my relevant knowledge to figure things out but I made no progress. I emailed every online service that was connected to my product and I asked for assistance, but nobody had any idea what was wrong. I tried again for another week, spending 4-5 hours every single day on the issue.

Then I enlisted the help of two friends who are experts in solving a variety of digital product problems…but even they, after two weeks of trying, could not come up with any solution either.

So, I just left it. A customer would purchase my eBook, they wouldn’t be able to download it, they’d email me and I’d email them back with the product as an attachment. This went on for three months. Every ten days or so, I would spend a full 7 or 8 hours trying to see if I could come up with a fix but, of course, I never could figure out what was happening.

Flying to Goa

Last week, I suddenly decided to fly from Bucharest to Goa, India, partly because of the harsh Romanian winter and partly because of the very cheap airfare that I found. I boarded my first flight, from Bucharest to Dubai, and I was happy to see that the plane was empty. I had a nice sleep the entire way as a result, all stretched out over three seats.

Upon arrival at the Dubai airport, I entered the terminal building, went to the food court to eat a sandwich for dinner and then sat down at a cafe for a coffee.

When I received my coffee, I had fifteen minutes before my next flight – Dubai to Goa via Mumbai – would start boarding. So I pulled out my laptop to quickly check my emails.

Boom.

The first email I noticed was from the company that acts as the payment processor and marketplace for the eBook I was having trouble with. It was a short email but by the time I finished reading it, my face was burning slightly and it felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach.

The email read, “It has come to our attention that customers are unable to download your eBook once they purchase it. Please fix this issue within the next 12 hours or we will remove your product from our site and it can not be sold through us again.

Oh my.

By the time I would reach Goa, take the 1.5 hour taxi ride to Palolem Beach, check in to a beach hut and try to find strong enough internet…and then somehow fix this problem that neither I, nor anyone else, could fix over the previous four months…more than 12 hours would most certainly pass.

That meant that I had 14 minutes to fix this issue or else I would lose this eBook. Without this particular company, I would lose a great deal of the marketing that has made this eBook popular. And if that were to happen, sales would be reduced drastically and as a result, any income earned from it as well. Just like that.

Now Boarding Flight AI894

I’ll be damned.

It took me exactly four minutes to fix the problem. I then made two test sales and everything worked perfectly.

I closed my laptop, enjoyed the final half of my coffee, shook my head in disbelief for a few minutes and walked to my gate, just in time to board the flight to India.

The Most Reliable Way to Succeed

That’s pretty much how life works. We can always get things done.

But when our backs are not up against the wall, when we don’t have a dire need to make something happen, when it’s not a now or never situation, it’s difficult to summon up the determination and effort we really need to advance towards a particular goal.

We might think we’re putting in the effort needed, but we’re not.

I thought I was doing everything I could to try and fix the problem above over the course of four months, but clearly I wasn’t. When I really needed to fix it, when I had no other choice but to fix it, when I could not afford to fail, I figured out the issue and fixed it…in four minutes.

This is how it goes for travel too. If we want to travel, in whatever form, and we struggle to get there, it might be because we’re too comfortable, we’re not really in a situation that leaves us no choice but to make it happen.

When I decided that I wanted to travel indefinitely back in 1999, I had less than $1500 USD to my name. I just made the decision while traveling in Southeast Asia but I didn’t have a plan at all. And as the days passed, I quickly realized that it was all up to me.

My money would run out soon and if I wanted to achieve this goal of long-term travel, I had to start achieving it, not in three months, not in one month…right now.

I had no other choice. Again, I could not afford to fail.

I talked to everyone I met, brainstormed like crazy and soon found a way to make a little money to keep me going until the next step, a way to make money that I never even knew existed until I had no choice but to find a way…and that’s pretty much how these 15 years of travel have happened. It’s gotten much easier over the years of course, but it’s all possible because I was left with no other option in the beginning.

And without that kind of pressure, I don’t know about you, but I tend to get lazy, I procrastinate, I convince myself that things aren’t possible. Time drags on, I don’t make progress, I get frustrated, and often times, I just give up.

It’s the determination that makes the difference and for most human beings, the most certain way to summon up the amount of determination required to achieve something, is to have no other choice but to succeed. I think it’s also why humans can suddenly lift cars to free someone trapped underneath or perform other amazing feats in intense situations that we ordinarily wouldn’t expect someone to be able to perform.

They have no other choice.

Were you ever in a similar situation? Did you achieve something when you had no other option?

Is there something you’re struggling to achieve these days?

Solution: For those interested, the problem was quite simple. I use a website called ejunkie.com that provides customers with the download link for the eBook. And in my ejunkie control panel, I had entered the link to my download page in the wrong section, something that I guess can be easy to do given how confusing the ejunkie control panel can be. The wording in the two sections is so similar that I can see how nobody would figure it out. But it had been working perfectly before so I’m not sure how the link suddenly ended up in the wrong spot but at least it’s fixed now!


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Comments 46

  1. Deanna

    I guess I’ve always known this is the case, that when people are forced to do things they inevitably will, but it is still nerve-wracking to begin travelling indefinitely with no concrete long-term strategy!

    I’m about to set off to Europe in July with funds to last about 6 months (I don’t know how you managed $1500!) and am hoping that it will all work out in the end. I do teaching English online (when I’m not feeling lazy…) and have just started a website, so fingers crossed this is true!

  2. Damon and Jo

    Love this. A lot of our best work comes from simply not affording to fail. Like, there’s just no choice. We find ourselves facing this a lot lately, as two 23 year olds with looming college debt, a growing travel YouTube and blog (with a lot of the same issues of ebook problems, etc.), and simply trying to survive and pay rent in Manhattan. Most of the knowledge we’ve acquired has come from just buckling down and DOING it.

    Long story short, we can relate, and that’s why we enjoyed this post so much to leave you this comment of appreciation.

    🙂

  3. Laura

    Actually, I took my first solo trip because all the sudden didn’t had a place to sleep nor food – I’m an au pair and families provide house, food, transport and money, so when I was left with nothing. Of course, I had save some money and before crashing with friends, I took a 12-days vacations that inspired me to start traveling, and from there I have visited 5 countries already. Desesperation can have good consequences I think!

  4. Lash

    Hey Earl,

    Great point! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I generally don’t let things in my life slide to the point of ‘do or die’. But I have had some experiences like this where I didn’t act – or didn’t act stronly enough – until I was practically up against a wall, nearly panic-stricken. And, yes, that kind of urgency can make me come up with solutions much more quickly or effectively. Excellent point!

    …and thanks for telling us the final solution to your glitch in this case. Good to know.

    cheers, Lash

  5. Zascha Friis

    Your blog posts are such an inspiration to me, really.
    And you’re totally right, people can succeed when they commit to it. I am about to start my travels this year, and I continue to worry whether or not I will have enough money, will I be okay on my own, will everything go wrong.
    But I will bear your very wise words in mind, because I definitely cannot afford to fail 🙂

  6. Alex

    Great post Earl!! When we were preparing to leave Australia, it seemed impossible. We were swimming in debt, had heaps of savings to make, and it just seemed impossle. Once we sold all of our stuff and were living in an empty apartment, though, it became that much easier to pull our fingers out and get saving!!

    Funny how that works. 🙂

  7. Thomas

    Great post and points Earl. Unfortunately majority of us are to scared or don’t know how to get out of our comfort zone. Sure there are times when we have a situation that comes out of the blue that puts us there but for the most part many don’t CHOOSE to but their backs against the wall. When you look at things you could have done many say if I know then what I know now or I wish I would have just done it.

    I don’t want to live a life of regrets or what if’s. There are a lot if things that we think we are doing all we can but in reality we might only be giving 50-70% max effort. You clearly weren’t giving it your all. I mean 4-5 hours a day for a week or so and then to fix it in 14 minutes. I’m sure we all have been there but most of us don’t see the writings on the wall. “YOU CAN DO SO MUCH MORE” yet we choose to not focus, not give 110% or better yet believe and have faith that when can do it.

    When I quit my job and starting blogging full time I didn’t make a dime for the first 6-8 months. I said I did everything I could blah blah blah. The fact was I had savings and used that as my backout even thinking about it. However when that savings was about to run out and my back was against the wall I found ways to make money online. All of which were there before but magically I never saw or paid attention to them.

    People always think they need more time or more money and honestly sometimes that is just an excuse to just not do as much as you should or could. Great post!

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  9. Stacey

    Four mins is crazy!

    I know how it is though, sometimes I do my best work while I’ve got my back up against the wall. All we need is that little (hard) push!

  10. Britt

    Love the deeper message you portrayed in this post. It’s very true though! I absolutely didn’t think I’d be able to save enough money to be at my travel savings goal by January this year- but I made it because I had to. I picked up some extra work, I was even more determined to cut my spending and I did because failure wasn’t an option. I often find some of my friends do their best travel spending if they book a ticket on a plane- it doesn’t give you any room to back out of achieving your travel goals!

  11. Sugar Plam Fairy

    Hey Earl,

    What a beautiful post! I caught myself nodding while reading this- I can’t agree more.

    Back in 1998, when I got a green card and was getting ready for the big move in the USA (a dream come true), I was thrilled, but I was 5x more scared (understatement) to leave my family, friends and cushy life behind. Did I say I knew nobody in the USA?

    I knew there would be times when I’d feel lonely and sad, confused in a foreign country, culturally misunderstood and miserable. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I really really wanted to embrace that opportunity. So, in the end, instead of a roundtrip ticket (as originally planned- to go and test the waters), I bought a one-way ticket, so I wouldn’t be tempted to hurry home when life decided to teach me a lesson. I gave my young self no chance to fail. And…16 years later, I still think that was the best decision I made!

    Thanks again for your post- always a joy to read!

  12. Michael Hartzsch

    Hi Earl,

    I also was very much interested how you could fix the issue so quick when others took months to look at it. Funny enough I am also now in India and here in Bangalore somebody would have fixed it in two minutes..hahaha

    Now to my story.

    In 1998 I was holidaying on an island called Formentera in Spain, very close to Ibiza. I went with my two best friends for a fortnight and we had a great time. 5 days before we departed we went to a pub for the last drink of the night…..As it turned out some ladies were also in this pub and we started to talk and had a laugh. Things got more serious and I ended up taking one of the ladies to the beach…..

    This lady was from Germany and lived in Australia. She decided to check out places around the world and after Sri Lanka she ended up in Australia. He mother got sick in Germany and she decided to take some time with her so she returned back to Germany. As her mother got better she decided to go back to OZ and before she took some time with her best friends in Formentera. So that is how we met.

    When we noticed there was something more serious between us I had to make a decision if I wanted to join her to go back to OZ. Elke made it very clear to me I had to go with her to OZ if I wanted this relationship to last.

    Well after some thoughts I applied for the permanent residence visa and within 11 months I was granted entry. To be precise it was the 24th of December 1998 when I was given the “stamp”.

    Now it is 2015 and I start to shorten the story….

    We left for OZ 16th of January 1999 and toured OZ in a camper for just below 2 years.

    We then settled in Cairns,QLD. We lived there until August 2014. Life got a little boring and we decided to sell the lot. We are now In India but before we got here, we traveled through Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Greece and now India. It shows you can do it if you only want to.

    You don’t chose a life, you live one!!!!!(watching “the way” in the background….).

    My point to this story is that I had a boring life in Germany and if I wouldn’t have gone to Formentera I would have never met Elke and joined her and her itchy feet….

    A couple of months ago I lost a very good friend of mine who died in a tragic accident. From one moment to another her husband and two little children are now on their own. Life can take a turn so quick, we forget to live. We only work for the luxury which we never ask if we really need it.

    We get sucked into the average life and never see what we could do with the years we join planet earth.

    Earl, why don’t you come to Bangalore and spent some days with us? We have a nice big house.

    To all out there: travel as much as you can and see all those great places. Enjoy every minute of life and there is one more advise: Be good to your mother!!!

    Cheers,

    Michael

  13. De'Jav

    This is a great post. When our back is against the wall we find a way out of no way. I remember leaving the US to move to Chile had somewhat of a game plan but knew had to find a job to start making money, a place to live, and start meeting people. It all worked out 3 years later and a great network.

  14. Pete @ Backtotravel

    Hi Earl, I think some others might relate to this experience.
    Five years ago I was just another cubicle guy in a big faceless corporation. I hated my job but I was too scared to do anything about it. Then one day the company went bust. I was forced to look for something else and within a week I had found much better job that paid more money with excellent benefits and flexible conditions. I love my work now but I never would’ve found this job if I hadn’t been forced to look for it. This new job has made my long term travels dreams a reality.
    If only we could summon up this kind of willpower whenever we choose…..

  15. Shikha Gautam

    Another great post Earl.
    I totally agree with the fact that we work hard, better and fast when failure is not an option at all. Realized that after seeing the readers’ number double on my blog once I committed to posting more often. Having left a full time job, I knew blogging wasn’t just an option for me, thus gave it my all and saw the results too. Something that I kept thinking over for almost 2 years took just one resignation!

  16. Polly

    I had no choice but to succeed at the end of last summer, and I failed. Pretty spectacularly. But I do think having a positive outlook changes how a person views a failure, and maybe whether or not they even consider it a failure in the first place.

  17. Elora

    What a story! Wow. The only instance I can give is deadlines for writing or appointments, etc.–thinking you won’t have enough time to make it, but because I’m determined I make it work. Nothing so bad as yours! Whoo! That would have scared me too. I’m so glad you were able to fix it! Did it turn out to be something obvious? I hate those. Makes one feel so stupid. (But at the same time relieved). At least one can laugh at it later.

    One other thing I might be able to relate to yours is the online marketing system I’ve taken on as a secondary income. The beginning is always rough, but because I definitely need to make it work, I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention! 😉

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    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Alice – I use a website called ejunkie.com that provides customers with the download link for the eBook and in my control panel, I had entered the link to my download page in the wrong section. And since the ejunkie control panel can be a bit confusing, making such errors is easy to do I guess. It had been working perfectly before so I’m not sure how the link suddenly ended up in the wrong spot but at least it’s fixed now!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Ha…I didn’t think anyone would really care about that part! The problem was simple. I use a website called ejunkie.com that provides customers with the download link for the eBook and in my control panel, I had entered the link to my download page in the wrong section. And since the ejunkie control panel can be a bit confusing, making such errors is easy to do I guess. It had been working perfectly before so I’m not sure how the link suddenly ended up in the wrong spot but at least it’s fixed now!

  19. Chris

    Hi Earl,
    Another excellent post – you are more than a world traveler; the expanse of living a full life provides readers with observations that cause us (at least me) to tweak my own concept of what is possible. Nice. And to this post about the urgency to get something done/solved, I would like to offer an armchair observation….you had no one to turn to, but also, no one to ply your determination with negativity. Most people don’t seem to have that “I can fix/do it” gene, and are happy to squash ambitions of people who do. The community you have created is a “can do” one, and a pleasure to have discovered.

    Also, of late your posts do not fit in even a full-screen window, and if I zoom out to read the entire text, it’s too small to read. An easy fix, probably. Your end or mine? Thanks.

  20. Sean

    Earl,
    I am actually in one of these situations right now and what you have written has given me hope.
    I have traveled most of South America in 7 months thanks to your inspiration, yet after hiking to Machu pichu, running a marathon in buenos aires, riding motorcycles in the sacred valley, swing jumping off a bridge, I have run out of money.
    I am in chile at the moment, despairing at my next move while my friends are traveling to Brazil.
    I have been working at a hostel for a free stay and enough pay to last me the week in exchange for work. One of their main hostels was shut down and I am seeing that they don’t need my services as much as they once did.
    I am searching for a new way to make enough money to keep traveling but I fell into a lazy funk.
    There must be a way to make good money to continue traveling. Your story has once again inspired me. Thank you.
    Also, Any advice would help.
    Sean

  21. Jeff sands

    Great post Earl. We’re contemplating this same thing right now, except we (Michelle and I) have a baby on the way, which doesn’t come without a price tag. I’ve been offered a great opportunity making a considerable amount of money in CA, but that’s the life I left behind once already, and that was before we had a kid on the way. However, we’re still considering living a life abroad. I think we’d need to establish a “home base” for some kind of stability no matter where we are, but this post speaks to me. It makes me realize “we’ll make it work.” Because I know we will. We’ll find a way. If I went back to the corporate world for the money, then what am I teaching my son? I’d be teaching him that the values I held so dear went to hell once a baby was on the way. Yet, I want to teach him the values I hold so dear, which is pursuing happiness (actual happiness, not the kind you try to consume).

    1. Esther

      a tough decision Jeff! Although it sounds you already know the answer. It is always easier to come up with reasons why not to….There are many expat communities abroad and children adapt easily. There is no better education than showing them the world than only from books. It sounds like a heart versus mind/rationality quest. It is a trust issue. Trust yourself that the decision you and your wife will take will be the one closest to your heart and that it will work out. When is there ever a right moment for a decision like this?
      I think it has more to do with what other people expect us to be the right thing to do…..conform or not conform or possible fears perhaps. Most fears we have don’t even happen. Well good luck and all the best for your family!

      1. Jeff Sands

        Thanks Esther! Thanks for taking the time to respond. I really feel that whatever decision we make, it will work out well. Even if I went back into the corporate world, it would be completely different this time. We know we can survive on our own now, so the corporate world no longer has leverage over us. If I don’t like what I’m doing, I can always leave. Of course, now, after having a taste of freedom, I’m tempted to go back and make a ton of money so I can leave in a few years and enjoy life without having to worry about money ever again. After all, I’m only 37, so there are lots of possibilities 🙂 We’ll see what happens.

  22. Scott

    Earl

    Dammit man you never stop writing the way you do as you change lives bro.

    Everyone who has already commented “I believe in you” now “believe in yourselves” 🙂

    Scott

  23. Silverrante

    Yes, I need to get my living situation cleaned up and simplify all my belongings to bare minimum before the 31st, as I leave on a long term trip February 1st.
    Procrastination has delayed me from accomplishing this but I’m working on it.

  24. Esther Engelen

    Hi Earl, thanks for charing your experiences again. I completely understand your story. I help organizing hackathons. A 32 hour brainstorming session where participants with different backgrounds have to come up with a working prototype or solution to a challenge given and the most extraordinary results come out of this.

    I participated at one myself last October on a subject I knew nothing about when I started. First time I learned so many new things about filming, editing, presenting, interviewing, website building, researching a new subject, working with people that did not know before in such a short amount of time.

    Somehow it is hard to apply this on my personal situation though. Like you say, laziness and procrastination is always around. I found out that you need to make things a necessity. Like announcing it on Facebook or telling your friends about it so that you’ll have some sort of a a must achieve deadline. I found out that working with others can help you better achieve your goal or project. I tend to leave hard thing last on the staple when I work on it alone. Or I work on to many issues at the same time which makes it impossible to finish anything.

    The question is how can we create this ‘it’s now or never’ situation so that we can apply this in our personal and working life as well.

    A friend of mine once told me he had bough his motorcycle before he had the licence and parked it infant of his window so that he was very motivated to get the license as quickly as possible.

    Another example I think of just now.

    I once had a friend at Unesco in Paris. I always dreamed of working there. But I was just on holiday. He said I’ll give you a tour in the office. He introduced me too his Boss. He said he was looking for an intern. He was on his way to a meeting but gave me the possibility of introducing my self in the hallway towards the meeting that he had in the conference hall on the other side of the building. It is extremely hard to get an internship at Unesco. He gave exactly 5 minutes, while walking the corridor to convince him of my motivation and knowledge. It was a Now or Never situation. He finally asked me to fill in an application form before the next day. So I did. a six pages long one. It took me all evening! but I got the job!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Kevin – I’m going to add the problem and how I fixed it to the bottom of the post right now! I just didn’t think anyone would be interested in that part 🙂

  25. Jee Ann

    Oh, definitely! It was at the beginning of last year when I knew I had to quit my regular job and learn to start earning a living writing. I didn’t know how. I didn’t have a PayPal account. I knew next to nothing about freelance writing or telecommuting, but I knew that I just had to let go already.

    Funny enough, I managed just fine and when I needed to make an income out of it, I was able to earn a lot more from my online work than my regular job. This post reminds me of something I read before about how some people write better at night – because their heads go on overdrive after all the fatigue and stress. It’s like, something you couldn’t do the whole day, you could do in a matter of minutes at night!

    I definitely love this inspirational post from you, Earl. When you’ve got no other choice but to succeed….

  26. John Rodgers

    Your post is something that we have experienced on and off again for our entire lives. Between having to switch to a new business three times in 15 years, surviving Katrina in New Orleans and a bout with the FTC it has happened to us also. Good Luck with the ebook and congrats on having the determination to make the fix. No panic just determination will usually get the job done.

  27. Verena

    I was literally sitting in front of my computer and started clapping and shouting when I read this. Clapping and shouting, alone in my room 😀

  28. Igor

    I completely agree with you.
    Two weeks ago I decided to travel around Europe to experience new things and since I arrived I have been trying to launch two online businesses: a travel blog and a english course via Skype for brazilians.
    I have some money from the past months which I was working and, damn it, sometimes I feel very lazy because I know that I am able to use that money if something goes wrong.
    I try forget it and work hard on my projects, but the feeling that “everything is okay” always come back to my mind!
    It is pretty easy to detect that problem but very hard to fix it haha
    Hope you don’t get any sort of issue like that again.
    See ya

  29. Mina Mahrous

    I was waiting to know what the problem was and how you fixed it!! You can’t leave the post like that! 😀 that’s like how they leave you in the end of a series episode, waiting for more details! Why I don’t want watch them 😀

  30. Neelima

    Love this story! I can totally relate to what you said about finding a way to succeed when failing is not an option. Making few changes in my life so I’m up against a wall which will force me to work more in the direction I want.

  31. Sharon

    I am hoping you are right since I (along with my husband and two young kids) just left our home in Australia indefinitely with the hope that we will be able to make an online income work – somehow!

    It is exciting trying anyway!

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