Many times in my life, I have been challenged. Many times, I have made mistakes. Many times, I have experienced failure. Now, reflecting on my time in business school, I realize that many opportunities were placed in front of me so that I could fail, and so that I could learn how to fail effectively …
All of us came to business school as leaders — as previously successful students, high performing employees and/or managers, and as driven individuals with interesting and intense backgrounds. But I noticed an interesting shift happening once I entered Fuqua. I quickly realized that everyone around me is equally motivated, equally smart, and have done things that are mind boggling. All of a sudden, we all moved from being at the top to taking our first statistics quiz and placing two standard deviations below the mean. At the time, it seemed like this grade alone would prevent me from getting a good stats grade, would prevent me from getting good job interviews, and possibly keep me from getting my dream job. In hindsight, I’ve realized that stats class was just another color in the crayon box, and one low grade isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t mean that I’m a complete failure. I’ve continued to grow and find those new colors of crayon that have made me into a stronger person, friend, and leader at Fuqua.
I used to be terrified of speaking in public. At Fuqua, I overcame the fear and the failures. I began participating in (and won!) case competitions. I never thought I’d be able to do something like this.
Until now, I never realized how well Fuqua was preparing me to face disappointments that may come my way. I never thought that failure, repeated failure, would be a part of my MBA journey. I expected to come into business school and excel. I had high expectations for myself — I was used to being a perfectionist. Of course, I knew there’d be some things to learn, and I wanted to learn, but overall, I expected to successfully overcome every challenge. But so far, my MBA experiences haven’t been that easy, and I haven’t been as glowingly “successful” as I thought I would be. I experienced failures, or at least, what seemed like failures at the time — like not acing my first stats quiz. And it was tough — it was really tough to accept failure, especially since I had become so used to accomplishing my goals. There were times when I questioned myself and my abilities, and I wondered whether I could make it through the Daytime MBA program.
A New Definition of “Success”
Now, over half way through the MBA program, I am realizing that all of my experiences, and especially the failures, have led me to believe that nothing is impossible. The failures provided me with invaluable opportunities to test my strength, to learn, and to grow. The failures also broadened my idea of “success” to mean something different than it used to. For example, success is no longer about acing every quiz, instead, it is about really learning, understanding, and applying the concepts taught in class. Success is helping my fellow classmates through their troubles. Success is growing my values into an ethical leader.
I know this “learn from your failure” attitude may sound like a self-help book, but I really believe it, and I learned the hard way. Along my journey, I also learned that I was not alone. At first, you think that you’re alone, but you’re not.
Acting tough with my very first case competition team — my teammates were essential in helping me to find my voice.
Maybe you’ve already been in my shoes, or in a similar situation — thinking back to my undergraduate days, in my organic chemistry course, I had been asked to create aspirin. At about the halfway point of the experiment, I waited for the chemical reaction to progress — for the synthesis to occur — but quickly realized that I had not allowed my vial to sit in the ice bath for long enough and my reaction foamed over. I started the experiment again and created aspirin crystals, and when checking for impurities I found that my aspirin had a lot of salicylic acid left in it. Failing at this experiment multiple times revealed the mistakes that I had been making, and allowed me another opportunity to do the experiment again — each time more successfully and efficiently. In time, I created aspirin that got me a 98% grade, and I felt it was pure enough to swallow, to help with the migraine I had created for myself in the process.
I have faced experiences like this at Fuqua as well. I’ve even had experiences that led me to overcome my biggest fear since childhood, and I can proudly say that I made this great accomplishment. Last year, my management communications professor, Mark Brown, transformed my presentation skills and taught me how to effectively express my thoughts. I truly feared public speaking and wouldn’t speak up in groups larger than 5 people. Mark gave me tools to help me overcome my fear, and I began using crutches like index cards, and writing down speeches to practice a 100 times. My Integrative Leadership Experience team also helped me to grow from a quiet girl who did not participate in team discussions, into a girl who was able to speak proudly and confidently about my knowledge of the healthcare industry in front of a crowd of judges and spectators for a case competition (read about some of my case competition experiences). I also became a girl who could voice opposition when I saw something going wrong in public, and a girl who is now able to lead and mentor first-year students who are facing some of their biggest fears and challenges. Whether in class or at a friend’s wedding, I can effectively give an impromptu speech or even stand up in front of a large audience during a case competition and answer difficult questions (although I may be sweating up a storm). I was able to overcome my inability to speak up, and though there were very uncomfortable moments and some failures along the way, I ultimately succeeded and was transformed, with help from the Fuqua community. And more than just my classmates and professors, it is the global environment of Fuqua that inspires me to move on and force my growth.
A moment of reflection and solitude at Machu Picchu in Peru — feeling how far I’ve come.
Transformation Follows Failure
As I am now travelling the world (visiting London, India, Bahrain, and then studying abroad in South America), I have realized what it’s like to be in a country with a language that’s foreign to me. And I realized how many international students feel when they come to Fuqua and Durham — they may know the words in the English dictionary, but may not understand idioms and slang. But they continue to learn English. It’s their curiosity and dedication to understand the English language that shows me that nothing is impossible. When in South America, I plan on getting lost on the roads, mistranslating Spanish words, and having moments in which I’m terrified — in short, I’ll make mistakes, and there will be failures. I think this will lead to stronger memories and a greater sense of accomplishment. It will lead me to better understand myself — how I deal with conflict, how I act under pressure, and how I am able to overcome any difficulties that I may face. It will better prepare me for the consulting world, where I will face conflict with my clients, my superiors, and my teammates. It will allow me to thicken my skin and to believe in myself. Failure is all about the effort you put in — the more effort that is put into overcoming a mistake, the more likely that it will result in greater success.
I am realizing that business school is about more than just learning statistical analysis. Business school should take you out of your comfort zone in order to make you stretch and grow. It may be uncomfortable at times, but most transformational journeys are. Business school prepares you for the rigors and realities of the working world, where you will face the same industry challenges day to day, encounter bureaucracy at its height, and of course, make some decision that causes a project to be unsuccessful. But through all this, there is one thing that does not change. It is the people that you surround yourself with, the mentors that you follow, and the leader you aspire to be. Although we may fail at times, it is important to remember that failure is a natural part of life — no one is perfect. Through failure, keep your head held up high and be courageous to take a risk and accept the fall if it comes.
Life’s path is made up of slabs — with each crack comes failure, with each slab comes a new experience … and when the path is finally built, it will lead to a home of great leadership, honest work, and genius business ideas.