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When someone says your project won’t work

There’s always, always an asterisk.


Occasionally, approval is necessary; most of the time, approval is just nice to have. In either case, though, when you’re excitedly sharing your goals with someone and they flatly say it won’t work…it can be deflating. Crushing. And worst, paralyzing.

But there’s an asterisk. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’s pinned above “It won’t work.”*

Here’s where that asterisk may lead, and what you can do.

It won’t work.*

*it might work, but I don’t want to give you my vote of confidence.

Your critic might be insecure. Or competitive. Or extremely cautious about disappointing you if they are wrong.

Either you’re onto something and your frenemy is terrified about your pending success, or you’ve got a protective pal who is concerned about your resilience and they’ll be happy for you if you succeed.

In this case of “it won’t work,” you can nod and move on without their support. Find support elsewhere. If you can’t find someone, then find it from within yourself.


It won’t work.*

*assuming a set of conditions stays true.

If you’re trying to send a giraffe to Jupiter with a balloon from Dollar Tree, it won’t work…given that all geophysical forces remain as they are, that the tensile strength of ribbons from Dollar Tree remains as it typically is, that giraffes weigh as much as they generally do, and on and on.

Your critic is assuming that conditions will be a particular way when you make your attempt. Your critic assumes that an unimaginable (or unimagined) factor will not show up that can render these other limitations moot.

In this case of “it won’t work,” you can be a more critical thinker than your critic. Attempt to imagine those possibilities. Try to redesign the system of conditions. Make your constraints beautiful.


It won’t work.*

*based on my definition of what works.

If you ask a basketball player, a ping pong player, and a bowler for a ball that works, you’re going to get three very different balls.

Don’t assume that everyone’s idea of what “works” is the same. Examine what your critic calls successful. Examine their heroes. Examine why they admire these people and things.

If they don’t match what you admire most, your definition of success may be fundamentally different from theirs. Not more valid or less. Simply different. (And if you can’t examine your critics, then it’s even likelier that their vote comes from different criteria than yours, since you don’t intimately know these people.)

In this case of “it won’t work,” don’t let someone else’s definition of success stop you from pursuing your own definition of success. If you’re going to value someone’s opinion, be sure your ideals align. “It won’t work” is an opinion, in the form of a confident prediction.


It won’t work.*

*this is my hypothesis, informed by my (limited) experiences.

We all make guesses based on the patterns we’ve learned during our time on this planet.

But no matter how long your critic (or advisor, or mentor, or boss, or mom) has been around, no matter how many books they’ve read, no matter how many fancy degrees they’ve earned, they have not learned or tried everything under the same conditions you’re in.

Hypotheses are a great starting point. They are testable statements.

In this case of “it won’t work,” you can use it as inspiration, as fuel, to start working.


Go for it. 

Succeed. Or fail. Whichever you define.

But no matter what, see — on your own terms — if “it works.”

Originally published at medium.com

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