There’s a quote I always see on Instagram that purports to be inspirational, but I see it quite another way.

Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll end up among the stars

Norman Vincent Peale

I get what the point of the saying is – aim as high as you can, accept that some aspirational goals are beyond your reach right now, but the act of chasing that dream can take you further than inaction and fear will.

But let’s examine the reality. The moon is roughly 384,000km from the earth. Reaching the moon requires a lot of planning, some precise calculations, and years of hard work and preparation.

Now, what happens if you miss? You can go too far, come up short, or just have the wrong angle to get to a relatively small target. After all, at 384,000km away, the 1,700km radius isn’t an easy spot to hit, dead on. If the Earth was a tennis ball, the moon would be a marble about three and a quarter kilometres away. And both of them are rolling around.

So, missing is a distinct possibility. If you come up short, well, you’re going to need to work out a way to get back. I’m sure there’s some serious maths that show exactly how a craft that comes up short of the moon would return home. But let’s say you really miss – like, by a lot. And end up the in stars.

Well, that would mean that you weren’t really planning to get to the moon, because you would have to build up a lot more energy to propel yourself out that far, which means that a successful moon shot would land like a bullet, and there likely wouldn’t be much left of you.

So, you’ve gone hurtling past the moon, on route to the nearest star (other than our own sun), which would be Proxima Centauri. It’s about 4.2 light-years from here, so I hope you packed some extra snacks!

So, it’s a lovely sentiment, but really, when it comes to inspiring one to take great risks, this one’s a failure to launch. If you really want to encourage someone to aim high, and appreciate the value of the attempt, I think this one does a better job:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt