Failure is an unpleasant reality of life. It will happen to everyone and no one is immune to it. How can we best take our failures and turn them into something positive? What lessons can we learn from these experiences and how can we use them in the future to ensure we do better? In this article I’ll talk about 3 lessons that I’ve learned through my failures and how these lessons can be applied to help you achieve success in your life:
#1) It’s OK to take Risks
Coming from a middle class family that valued education and a stable profession, taking risks was an idea that was foreign to me. My dad’s idea of a successful life was to get a well-paying, stable job and enjoying the finer things in life. However, as early as my first year in college I knew that I wanted more. I started my first business the summer going into my junior year in college. The name of the business was “Pasticity” and it was an Italian pasta catering service. During my final 2 years of college I was focused on growing the business and gaining exposure throughout campus.
When I finally graduated from ASU I was at a crossroads. I’d recently been accepted to a Masters in Finance program at one of the top international business schools in the world and my dad strongly encouraged me to pursue higher education. Along with my acceptance to the Master’s program I was also accepted into a new business incubator program in Phoenix called “SeedSpot”. As part of the curriculum, we would be challenged to develop a business tied to a social cause. I knew I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship but the family pressure to continue my education was difficult to ignore.
After a discussion with my dad I decided to enroll in the Master’s program. As part of our initial introduction to the Master’s program, we were asked to introduce ourselves to our classmates. When it was my turn, I told the story of my business and my journey the university. My words were filled with passion and excitement and I could sense my classmates becoming enthralled with my story. I knew at that moment that I needed to change my path and take the risk into entrepreneurship. That night I told my parents that I’d be dropping out of my Master’s program. This crushed my dad but I told him that it was what I had to do.
During my time at SeedSpot, I learned some valuable business lessons. Entrepreneurship is not as glamourous as it’s painted in the magazines and it takes hard work and determination to make a business succeed. Though I worked diligently to ensure the success of “Pasticity” it just wasn’t meant to be. After 6 months, I closed up shop and began to evaluate my options for my next move.
When I realized that “Pasticity” wasn’t going to work out I was distraught. It’s what I’d focused on since junior year of college and I felt that it was an unfortunate way to end it. Although I was upset at the time, I now realize that it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. The failure of “Pasticity” taught me that it was OK to take risks. This experience also taught me that the worst case scenario isn’t all that bad. Sure it wasn’t fun watching a business that I’d worked on so hard fail but it wasn’t the end of the world. I was able to pick myself up, brush myself off and move forward.
I know now that the next time I decide to start a business, I won’t be in foreign territory and the lessons I’ve learned from my previous experience will help increase my likelihood of success. Challenge yourself to take a risk on something you feel passionate about. It can be something big or it can be something small. The most important part is taking action. The lessons you’ll learn and the insights you’ll gain will be invaluable.
#2) Importance of a positive attitude
Before starting my program at SeedSpot, I was managing a restaurant in down town phoenix. This job required me to manage the operations of the restaurant as well as ensure the staff was happy and productive. As my commitment to SeedSpot and my business grew, I began to see a down tick in my performance at work. My enthusiasm wasn’t there and I began to make mistakes that affected the performance of the restaurant.
I remember one incident in particular where I incorrectly input the portions for a 50 person catering event which resulted in us having to issue a 50% refund on the order. I felt horrible about the situation and relayed my apologizes to the owner. Things on the business front weren’t looking too promising either. I’d been having issues generating sales for my business and the SeedSpot program was about to come to an end.
Things continued along this way until the owner demoted me from my position as manager and eventually fired me from the restaurant. This was something that was extremely embarrassing to me and I’ve yet to make it known to my friends and family. After the firing, I slipped into a period of self-doubt and lost most of my self-confidence. I constantly questioned myself and had a hard time believing that I could provide any value to an organization. After some time in this mindset I decided enough was enough. I made a commitment to myself that from that day forward I would keep a positive attitude during negative situations.
After closing Pasticity, I began looking for other opportunities. Having studied Industrial Engineering in college I decided to focus my search on engineering positions. One day I came across a job description for an implementation consultant position at an up and coming company headquartered in Denver. I didn’t know much about software development but I thought I’d apply and see what happened. I went through the interview process, received the position and was assigned to the Washington DC project. Throughout the entire process I kept a positive attitude knowing that everything would work out in the end.
The period following my firing from the restaurant and the failure of Pasticity was one of the most challenging of my life. I truly believe the only reason I got through it as well as I did was because I kept a positive attitude and knew things would get better. Life has a way of hitting you in the mouth and unless you have a positive attitude it can be easy to stay down for the count. I encourage you to always try and look at the positive in every situation. A great way to practice this is to write down 3 things that you’re grateful for every morning. This will help get your positivity juices flowing.
#3) Learn to fight through adversity
Coming from a non-software background I knew that it would be a challenge acclimating to my new role. For the first few months I felt completely lost but I slowly started to get my bearings. After about 3 months on the job, I had my quarterly review with my project manager. We sat down in a conference room and he asked me how I thought I was doing. I told him that I initially had difficulty acclimating but I felt that I was now more comfortable in the role.
After I’d given my response, he told me that he had talked to some of the project supervisors and they were concerned about my progress thus far. He told me that he’d give me a few more months to see if I improved but if I didn’t it’s OK because “not everyone is meant to be a developer”. I left the meeting in a haze. I didn’t understand what had just happened and it took me a while to process the information. At first I felt confusion, then anger at whoever told him I was struggling then sadness and humiliation.
It’s never fun being told you’re not good at something but it’s important to use these comments as fuel to push you forward. After about 10 minutes at my desk thinking over what my project manager had said I made a promise to myself that I was going to prove him and whoever else doubted me wrong. This process didn’t come without its struggles. For the first few months following the discussion, I consistently had doubts about my abilities and had negative thoughts about quitting to find other opportunities. These thoughts will creep in from time to time so understand that it’s normal and don’t let them consume you.
As a result of my focus and determination, I was able to contribute to a successful software rollout in DC and was afforded the opportunity to move to Puerto Rico to work on its massive tax project. I was able to overcome the initial adversity because I focused on the task at hand and strived to improve every day. There will be days where negativity creeps in but it’s important to stay positive and eliminate the negative self-talk. You have innate talents and it’s your job to use those talents to maximize your potential.
Through all these failures I’ve learned valuable lessons that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. Your toughest challenges bring about some of your greatest lessons so don’t be discouraged when you fail. Instead, take the knowledge and insight you gain from the experience and apply it to bettering yourself in the future. What are some lessons you’ve learned from failure? I would love to hear about them.
My book recommendation for this article is “Steve Jobs” by Walter Issacson. This is a phenomenal biography of Steve Jobs and his journey to the top of the tech world. Steve Jobs had plenty of failures but each time he failed he would come back bigger and better than ever. Check out the link to the book below: