What Would You Attempt If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

Robert H. Schuller? Regina Dugan? Sebastian Thrun? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a saying in self-help books that presents encouragement in the form of a question with a trace of wistfulness:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

This statement was highlighted in a TED talk by Regina Dugan, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Do you know the name of the person who crafted this motivational query?

Quote Investigator: Robert H. Schuller was a minister and popular speaker who was best known for hosting a syndicated television show called “Hour of Power” and for building an impressive edifice called the Crystal Cathedral. He published a book in 1973 titled “You Can Become the Person You Want To Be”. The second chapter started with a set of questions; these were the first three: 1

What goals would you be setting for yourself if you knew you could not fail?

What dreams would you have on the drawing board if you had unlimited financial resources?

What plans would you be making if you had thirty years to carry them out?

Schuller continued by asking each reader to think about the role he or she wished to play in the “drama of human life”:

Clarify your role before you set your goal or you’ll encounter confusion and frustration. Conflict in inter-personal relations is too often the result of a misinterpretation by the involved persons of the roles each should be playing.

Schuller’s book contained the earliest evidence located by QI of this interrogative framework being used to aid a person to delineate goals and formulate a plan or purpose. The phrasing differed somewhat from the version used by Dugan.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What Would You Attempt If You Knew You Could Not Fail?


  1. 1973, You Can Become the Person You Want To Be by Robert H. Schuller, Chapter 2: Set Your Goals and Let Them Lift You, Quote Page 11, Hawthorn Books, New York. (Verified on paper)