Failure is an option – it has to be

What you are getting into: 5 minutes of serious fun, of deep thoughts about how to pick a career (and more generally perhaps a new slant on life), a Mars rover, Vince Chase, bikini babes, and some stock market gloom.

NASA: Failure is not an option (Apollo 13)

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter provides aerial security for Soldiers in Company F, 3rd Helicopter Assault Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, as they move wounded Soldiers during a downed aircraft training exercise Jan. 15 on Fort Hood, Texas.

Okay, I can see where NASA is coming from. It’s a bit like the “leave no man behind” credo (rather get 25 men killed trying to get that last guy out; the one who has already had his arms and legs hacked off and most likely will bleed to death on his way back. If he even gets that far)

NASA obviously wants every launch to succeed, every astronaut to come back alive. Check and re-check until everything is 100%. Not 99%. Failure is not an option.

Challenger_explosion o rings leakage failure is not an option but it has to be

Well, unless you are sending teachers into space in much colder weather than the O-ring seals are made for (against advice from the manufacturer and without getting their clearance), all but guaranteeing leakage and explosion (Challenger 1986).

But that’s a whole different story. Perhaps NASA interpreted it as “failure to launch on time is not an option”.


Failure has to be an option

I’m sure NASA is aware of that too, but it’s still important to spell it out. Without taking risks you won’t break new ground.

However, the pitch here is even simpler than that: If you against my recommendation want to get into finance. If you say you love it, and that it’s not about the money. Prepare for this:

Imagine 20 years hence

fun failure

You have been staring yourself half-blind at multiple computer screens showing dozens of real time charts of various financial gauges. You are not trying to understand business models and predict successes and real cash flows, because that’s not what drives stocks within your relevant investment horizon (see chart below from zerohedge). You are not contributing value (by, e.g., identifying and financing worthwhile, productive investments). Rather, you are a kind of parasite, sucking blood from meaningless market fluctuations, dictated by other people’s greed and fear, as well as politician’s machinations to appear important and stay in power. 

Are you buying this?

profits hype hope and stocks and failure to align profits and values

Imagine stock markets 20 years from now are still at the same level as today (see previous posts for why that is not unreasonable). Imagine that not only prices were stagnant after decades of artificially low interest rates taking valuations of sketchy-accounting-profits too the current extreme highs (see this article by dr Hussman, e.g., and his valuation chart below), but volumes dwindled (3/4 of stock market volume is algos trading with each other, the remaining 25% of real money is mostly there because liquidity appears good and markets have been booming, in the wake of money printing induced lack of risk aversion.

valuation retarded failure is an option and will be

In addition, once prices fall, and algos find it harder to make money, real money will withdraw as well. With prices falling too, the money value of the remaining volume could fall to as low as 5-10% of current trading – at least when it comes to real money – what’s left of algo liquidity will be too erratic to trust anyway.

Imagine that not only did prices first halve, then boom, then halve again, then gradually work themselves back to current levels 20 years from now, on very thin volume. To make matters worse, imagine you weren’t even that good a parasite. Imagine you made at best an average white collar wage but at 150-200% of the hours.

human raccoon failure is an option

What if you lose?

What I’m asking you to do, in finance or whatever endeavor you take up, is to imagine failure.

Then ask yourself, would you still love doing it (like, find it tolerable, choose it…)? Or was it really the money, the parties, the girls, the Swiss watches, Italian cars and boats that enticed you?

failure is an option money isnt everythingRonja Hublot failure is an option

If you still say you want to do it – for the thrill, for the math and statistics, for pitting your mind against the best and the brightest life-wasters you can find, and not for the money. If you can honestly say you will be fine, if you after 20 years, with bags under your eyes, with an empty bank account, with a weak back, and ruined liver, with a mediocre career in a business on the ropes, can say it was worth it.

Imagine you are high finance’s equivalent of a washed up boxer who never won anything but makes his living as a human punching bag (like Rocky in Rocky I before he got a shot at a fight vs. world champion Apollo Creed). If you can still say it was great, a thrill, what you would have chosen again given a second chance. Then by all means get into finance. If not, why not choose a career doing what you actually like doing even in your spare time.

NASA_Mars_Rover failure is an option

I just re-listened to this old TED Radio hour show about microbes, exploration and creativity (From curiosity to discovery, Sept 12, 2014) which goes to show just how much fun and new ground there is to break right here on earth. Then there are all the other issues of water, food, health, energy, death and pollution to solve – possibly with the help of genetics,AI,robots and nanotechnology. There is so much fun things to do that’ll make you grow, rather than playing on the big casino.

The Entourage dream is just that – fiction

So, please before you let the latest Entourage movie distract you, with its yachts, cars, houses and bikini babes; just think for one second if those things would really make you happy if you couldn’t tell anybody about it. Or, for that matter, if you tried with the sole aim being copying Vince’s lifestyle, and you failed.

Failure is an option – it has to be. Vince knows that, he always claims they can all move back to mom in Queens, whereas that would be his entourage’s worst nightmare.

Could you handle failure in the direction you are going?


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entourage failure is an optionRehab  Pool Party Hard Rock Las Vegas Failure Is Not An Option

Dare to fail and you will avoid just that

This is a story of how I failed to increase my bench press this spring, but nevertheless gained physically and mentally


  • A quick run through of what should be a very good strength training regime
  • A rare glimpse of me failing
  • A lesson on why you never truly fail if at least you try
Trial and error built this 40+ year old body

Trial and error built this 40+ year old body

The perfect peak strength plan

I tried to become stronger this spring.

I had a plan and I followed it. In addition, I was being (informally) coached by Sweden’s best weight lifting blogger.

I powered on with high volume (5-8 sets of 3-4 reps at 80-85% of my assumed 1 rep maximum; a little more than 2 times a week on average for the bench press) during two months. Around week 9-11, I progressed to pyramids: a base of 4-7 sets of 2s-5s at 85-89% of my 1RM plus a peak of a few singles at 93-96% of 1RM).

I de-loaded during week 12 by approximately halving my volume but keeping 1-3 heavy singles of 93-96%. After that, during week 13, six days before today’s all out effort, I did my last two singles on respectively 120kg and 125kg (264.5/275.5 lbs), or 93/96% of my 1RM before the program.

The last five days I cut out the heavy singles and reduced both intensity and volume of what little was left, as well as cut out other exercises, to enable my muscles to bounce back and super compensate for the heavy volume and intensity the weeks and months before. On T-4 days, I benched only 85kg x4x3 (65%) and 70kg x3x4 (54%), and on T-2 just 70kg x4x3, with as much explosivity I could muster.

Maximum effort

Today I warmed up with 8 minutes of easy jogging on a tread mill, then carefully mobilized all my joints, as well as my upper and lower back. I couldn’t have prepared any better; I was well rested, well prepared, had overreached and then rested to bounce back. I felt confident.

I worked myself up through the weights on the bench, gradually increasing the intensity of my arc and eventually slapped on some chalk on my hands when I reached 120kg (265 lbs). 130kg x1 (286.5 lbs) was fine, but it’d better be, since that was what I was supposed to handle before the program.

And then, five minutes later, just like that, I missed (albeit marginally) my attempt on 132.5kg (+safety springs, so approximately 132.75kg = 292.5lbs).


I don’t consider it 3 months down the drain, although I am quite disappointed. I have learned a lot during this program and I have an idea how to improve going forward. What is annoying, however, is that I benched 140kg (308 lbs) three years ago, without an elaborate program or peak plan.

Sure, I’ve had knee surgery, a wrist injury and several hamstring tears since then, of which last November’s hamstring tear was quite serious.
Hamstring tear

A failure isn’t always a failure
As failures go, this one wasn’t too bad: I still worked out, I went through the motions and exposed myself to more exercise volume than usual. Something good has definitely happened, even if it didn’t show up in peak strength right this day.
I can still try 132.5kg or even 135kg (297.5 lbs) in a couple of days or a week. Not least, going forward, I can build on my training capacity that most likely increased during the period.
So, all in all, this wasn’t just a failure: I tried something new, I trained more than usual, I learned new hypertrophy and strength training theories and I put myself out there. Now I really know my body holds up for a maximum effort, after all my recent injuries – and I know exactly where that maximum is per this date. That is something to build on; and building layer upon layer is all this website is about.