The Complexity of Failure

We've all read those stories where someone was really passionate about reaching a specific dream he had, but he kept failing. Eventually, he reached his goal. Happy ending. The moral of these stories is to never give up if you're passionate about something.

However, I find the concept of failure to be really complex, because we never know if we should keep trying or walk away. I don't think these two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Walking away and reverting your focus in a different direction can be a way of trying harder. Trying hard in terms of what, though? Your specific goal may be different, but your general goal is still personal satisfaction.

I think Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba, is a great example of being persistent yet realistic: knowing when to redirect your focus via different avenues when things don't work out.


I recently came across an article about Jack Ma that I found extremely inspiring. His current net worth is over $20 billion, but before his success, he went through so much rejection:
  • He failed a college entrance exam three times.
  • He even applied to work at KFC, and, out of 24 applicants, he was the only one who didn't get selected.
  • He was rejected from Harvard ten times.
One (obvious) takeaway I had from Jack Ma's story is the importance of perseverance. Even after all those rejection letters, Jack Ma kept going. What I really respect about Jack Ma is that he was so persistent in trying to achieve every single one of his goals. But when it didn't work out, he was really proactive about finding personal satisfaction through a different channel.

He first started out as a teacher. After realizing that that wasn't the best fit for him, he founded his first business, China Yellow Pages, China's first Internet-based company which eventually failed. I mean, honestly, how do you go from getting rejected from KFC to founding your own Internet-based company?

My second takeaway is the importance of an open mind. Although perseverance is important, if you keep getting knocked down, be open to receiving constructive criticism. Why are you getting rejected? Is there something you could be doing better or differently? Is there something that you're overlooking? Knowing how to listen can help you decide what direction you should invest your time and energy in.

Failures and mistakes are inevitable. We will never know if we should keep pursuing that one goal after multiple attempts, but it doesn't hurt to be open to the idea that maybe that specific goal isn't your calling.

My third takeaway: Being able to admit to yourself that your interests aren't your calling requires a lot of self awareness and knowing how your assets can be applied in different ways, which is what, I think, makes Jack Ma an extraordinary businessman.

With love,
Phyllis

1 comment

  1. Agreed! Something I've needed to come to terms with is that sometimes you gotta let something go to make room for something better :) -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

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