I'm always confused by this statement. If something is a choice, then isn't it also an option? You made your choice out of the given options, right?

This is a different format, but the same idea:

Failure is not an option, it is a choice

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    When I searched for quotated "is a choice, not an option", Google said there were about 2,560,00 results. I leafed through 4 pages of results, noting that most of them were repeats of the same half-dozen instances. By then Google had come clean and admitted there were only actually 80 results. Representing I'd guess barely a dozen actual different instances. It's a vacuous phrasing used by a few people who clearly think options are easy things you just casually tick the box to get, whereas making choices takes effort and commitment, and is to be applauded. And they think it sounds hip. Oct 24, 2011 at 2:41
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    @FumbleFingers, if this your round about way of saying 'this is drivel' then I agree.
    – Sam
    Oct 24, 2011 at 6:58
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    I think the emphasis on choice here is just more free-market/free-will conservative blather, which is aimed to tell us that all our failures are our own fault.
    – user13141
    Oct 24, 2011 at 9:31
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    @Sam,onomatomaniak: Yes, I do think attempting to distinguish choice from option by implying that only the former implies an act of volition is fatuous in the extreme. I originally wrote that this was vacuous phrasing used by a few dimwits. I changed it to people because I thought dimwits was a bit inflamatory, but that's what they are! :) Oct 24, 2011 at 12:42
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    Somewhat related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/3703/option-vs-optional
    – Marthaª
    Oct 24, 2011 at 16:31

3 Answers 3


As others have indicated this is the sort of vacuous candy floss that management consultants and self help gurus like to push.

However, I think there might be a history here. "Failure is not an option" is a fairly well attested phrase. The Ngram on this phrase shows that it came rapidly into vogue over the past twenty years. The meaning is pretty straightforward — failure on this project or task is entirely unacceptable.

It seems that this pat phrase has been expanded on, by adding "it is a choice" perhaps from a less common aphorism "failure is a choice" So we have a kind of confused meaning. We start with a cliche which has a meaning beyond its literal meaning, and we tack on more jejune fluff. So the phrase means something along the lines of "Failure is completely unacceptable — and if you do fail you did so because you chose to do so." The underlying meaning being "don't give me any excuses for why you didn't get it done."

Of course it is still macho silliness, but I think that is how we ended up with this little jewel of nonsense.


This phrase is pretty meaningless, but I think we can divine what the speaker is trying to say. If we take this phrase at face value, it's like saying "Apples are not fruit, they are fruit."

The speaker is saying "Failure isn't something that might happen; it's something we'd have to choose." A much better way to phrase this would be: "Failure is not a possibility, it is a choice."



After reading my initial answer I found it to be wrong. So I've corrected it.

In the context of the phrase "X is a Choice not an option" the word "Choice" is reference to the act of choosing — or an opportunity to make a decision about options and not a reference to a particular choice in a set of choices.

In this context an option is what gets to chosen.

So a menu might say "You have two choices: Chicken soup or lentil soup". Or a rather dictatorial soup-nazi chef may say, "You have a choice to make: chicken or lentil, choose wisely!".

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    I removed my answer only to upvote your and realize how perfectly spot-on you are on this. Great job!
    – Frantisek
    Oct 23, 2011 at 22:00
  • Okay you managed to make me blush hehe ... If i up your comment does that count as a thanks? Oct 23, 2011 at 22:01
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    I'm not sure I agree with this. Yes, the basic meaning of "choice" may be the process of choosing, not that which is chosen; however, as with many other nouns of action, it has acquired the result of the action as an additional meaning. Cf. ruling, creation, caesura, etc. This already happened in antique languages, and is still happening now, to all words of action in all European languages I know, like the suffixes -sis, -io(n), -ing, -ure etc. It also happened to the word optio in Latin. The suffix -io indicates it was originally a noun of action denoting the process of choosing. Oct 23, 2011 at 22:50
  • Then by your reasoning, if failure is the choice, then it must have been an option at some point right?
    – Sam
    Oct 24, 2011 at 6:57
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    -1. This answer is quite wrong. Certainly "choice" means the act of choosing - but it also means a thing chosen, or available to be chosen. You are inducing a distinction where there is none, and, worse, claiming that what in your book is a misuse of a word is "grammatically incorrect".
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 24, 2011 at 14:52

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