I believe that the core of success often lies in the heart of failure. As my Mom said to me growing up, 'Something happens... the way you respond can make things better or worse.' I had no idea how right she was. I am not ashamed of my failures, but rather view them as a hallmark of my commitment to learning. A failure is only truly a failure if it has not been learned from. As author Ryan Holiday says in his book with the same title, The Obstacle is the Way.
Am I glorifying or endorsing failure? No. But I do believe that if you're not falling, you're not skiing hard enough. Failure is inevitable. How we choose to react is what counts.
In 2007, I was deferred from MIT. This means that, after applying early, I was not accepted, but not rejected. Rather, they offered to consider my application in their regular pool. Key was the fact that they allowed me to show them any progress over the following 6 weeks. My friends and I responded by finishing a project on which we'd been hard at work: an arcade machine for Texas Children's Hospital (see the Design section of this site.) I wanted to show the school that we could finish what we started and that I really did mean what I said in my essays. With the incredible support of friends and family, not only did the hospital enjoy the game for over 7 years, but I also got into MIT. I now interview for the school's undergraduate program.
Between Fall 2008 and Fall 2009, I was turned down 5 different times when I tried to get an internship at Apple. The 6th time, I got it. (and just in the nick of time - I was a Junior in college.)
At the beginning of 2009, I got frostbite on every one of my fingertips, putting one of them in serious jeopardy. I did this by doing practically everything wrong. Dehydration: projectile vomiting the day before with a horrendous stomach bug and chugging pepto on the car ride from TX to Colorado. Impaired judgment from sleep deprivation: getting lost en route to Canon City, CO in the dark at 2:00am and waking at 6:30am to go skiing. Further dehydration: not drinking nearly enough water to avoid puking on the slopes. Stupidity: allowing my buddy to egg me on and staying out after losing feeling in my fingers, even after experiencing lots of pain recovering at lunch. More stupidity: after seeing white fingertips (and one with a dark shadow) once off the slopes, thrusting my hands under scalding hot water. The following 2 hours are some of the most physically painful I can recall. This left me not able to ski race during January 2009.
I was stranded with no plans. A perfect platform to reassess. Luckily, I regained feeling by that summer.
Also at the beginning of 2009, I was fired from a research position at MIT's world-renowned Media Lab. The cause? I promised to work 20 hours/week, but got too excited about my first startup project and failed to adjust expectations.
All of this thrash allowed me to confront tough decisions and change majors at MIT, enriching my college experience by exposing me to learning opportunities that I truly enjoyed. In addition, I re-assessed my extracurricular involvement and was able to discover and help friends create and launch incredible projects like MIT's live music club and MIT Camp Kesem's Teen Program
In 2012, I was voted out of a company I started with my friends. That was one of the biggest changes and challenges early in my career. Needless to say, I found it enormously difficult. In the process, I learned the value of being what Adam Grant calls an other-ish, or smart giver. I finally came to understand the difference in identity between me and the projects I start. I also gained a very personal sense of how to avoid what Stanford researcher Carol Dweck calls a 'fixed mindset' (ie. I'm just not good at X or I'm a rock star at Y). I learned about business ethics by reading Winners Never Cheat (Even in Difficult Times)
and James Carse's Finite and Infinite Games
, which I learned of from author and speaker, Seth Godin
. Ultimately, I left the company on good terms and remain close colleagues and friends with my business partner. Ministry of Supply was an amazing vehicle to validate the idea of a viral consumer product. The project taught me not only that startups can work, but that my friends and I
were capable of creating them. Wow. That was huge. And addictive.
In 2013, after helping break a record on Kickstarter, I submitted a video that wasn't good enough. How? 2 ways. 1) The video and audio weren't well-synced. And 2) the story was stilted - I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew something was wrong. But I turned it in anyway. The result? I was rejected from Kickstarter. In response, I was able to explore independent crowd funding through Crowdtilt Open
So, why am I being open about these failures? Because, as we live in an increasingly transparent society, I think it's important for us not to fear failure because of what it might mean, but rather, to embrace it for what it truly is: an opportunity to learn and return more ready to do it better next time. Life is an iterative process. And I believe that only by iterating on inevitable failures can we grow. As long as we stay open to life, it will stay open to us.
I'm not perfect, and neither are you. But I believe that together, we can create a more perfect world.