On the topic of an article in the NY Times by Michael Ellsberg,
I’d like to take note of a couple things. I’m not as radical as Michael Ellsberg is, but one thing that
really, really hit home, and I think is really scary:
Finally, entrepreneurs must embrace failure. I spent the last two years interviewing college dropouts
who went on to become millionaires and billionaires. All spoke passionately about the importance of their
business failures in leading them to success. Our education system encourages students to play it safe
and retreat at the first sign of failure (assuming that any failure will look bad on their college
applications and résumés).
I’ve found this to be all too accurate in my experience, and I honestly think it’s something
that could easily hinder any motivation and courage I may have to take a leap of faith and
start a company. My whole life in school, and not even just school, but society as a whole,
seems to always encourage the safe route, and for the masses, maybe rightfully so. But for
those ambitious enough, this negativity is devastating. My whole life I feel as though I’ve
been passively encouraged to strive for safety, after all, many seem to correlate that with success because
being safe usually means being steady, and being steady usually means no failure, and if you haven’t
failed, you must be successful, right?
I will openly admit I am terrified of failure (#11)
but everything I seem to read from those successful entrepreneurs is that they embraced failure
as a step towards success (most of them having failed at least once to get where they are now).
I am not nearly as welcoming to failure as I should be, and fear has the potential to prevent people from
taking risks. To me, that’s a very scary thought. Not just for me personally, but the thousands of others out
there who’s inspiration, creativity and motivation to make something better may be drowned by the
subconscious plea of society to play it safe.
If start ups are the best way to create jobs and innovation, make a difference,
and move society forward, then why does it (at times) feel like taboo to take these risks? Why is
failure not more often recognized as a sign of learning and improving when it is likely the most
important experience a currently successful entrepreneur pays attribution to? Why can’t society be
more open about failure, and teach that an appropriate amount of failure is typically healthy to one’s
education? If more people were comfortable with failure, I honestly feel as though taking risks would
be a more honorable trait and that innovation and entrepreneurism would thrive, which is clearly a
positive remedy for the economy and society as a whole.
School seems to shelter students by throwing them into a community of people, typically the same age, who
have yet to experience the real world. They like to use the word “prepare” and explain that they are
“preparing students for life.” Honestly, not as much as you’d like to think. All they seem to be doing
is further sheltering me from the realities of the real world, the ups and downs, and skewed versions
of the meanings of success and failure. </rant>
Plenty of times, the argument seems to come back to “Well, school provides a nice, well-rounded education.”
If what you mean by that is that students find creative ways to limit the work load and skip their non-core classes,
then maybe so. I have two non-core classes left, not including the two non-core classes I am taking right now. Do you
think I strive to learn anything in those classes? The honest truth is that I find the easiest class that fulfills
that requirement, and pass it, leaving little trace that I took that class. This sounds terrible but it’s only a
matter of prioritizing what’s important to me. My religion class that I have to take, not important. At least in
comparison to learning the skills that actually matter for my career, which is time consuming enough. Simply put,
although you’d like to think those liberal studies classes are paying off, the honest truth is that most students don’t
care they want as minimal work as possible and often don’t take them seriously enough to benefit from them,
whether you like it or not, that’s how it is.
Besides, the amount of work and socializing that’s required to get ahead
in the start up world provides a surprising amount of well-rounded education. Founders can’t possibly be specialized
in research, product development, sales, marketing,
operations, accounting, finance, management and HR, yet early on it is mostly the founders that perform
all these on a regular basis if they want to see their company survive (can you say learning experience?).
Not to mention everything else that is read between the lines from such an experience.
On a final note, I’d like to address the debates occurring in the education space, school vs. unschool. Why can’t
institutions that are so rigorously tied up in defending themselves and the education they provide instead realize
that there is plenty to learn from the ambitious drop outs, the unschooling, the self-learning and autodidacts…
then take this knowledge and use it to shape their programs to accommodate the super ambitious and reintroduce the
idea of aspiration into their student bodies?
Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.