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Failure

Since I’ve been at HBS I’ve heard several references to how HBS students aren’t used to failure. How it’s something we’ve never really had to deal with. In fact, I remember hearing at Admit Weekend how the failure essay was the most difficult for many of us to write.

Hmm…apparently I’m hogging all the failure at HBS because I’ve experienced enough failure to last several lifetimes.

To prove my point, I sat down for a minute to jot down some samples of the failure I experienced pre-HBS. I write this here not to gain your pity. I write this to start the healing process.

I was born 2 weeks late. I failed kindergarten. I brought home the least Halloween candy three years in a row. I lost to my sister in a foot race.
I got dumped in 4th grade. I lost the election for elementary school president. I went three years without beating my friend Brett in RBI Baseball. I went to a Ratt concert. I quit playing piano after 4 lessons. I struck out 62 times in my high school baseball career. I took a full week to learn how to drive stick. I got booed off stage during a student government speech. I got ticketed for driving 68 mph in a school zone. I had my application rejected by Big Brothers of America. I got drunk for the first time off wine coolers. I totaled my car in a flood…while I was in it. I once wore a white belt. I never saw Top Gun. I ordered a bottle of White Zinfandel on a date. I lost my rent money playing blackjack in Lake Tahoe. I lost a ski the next day. I bought an electric guitar instead of an acoustic. I thought of applying to MIT. (Ok, that last one isn’t true…whew.)

And there you have it…just 5 minutes of brainstorming revealed a lifetime of failure.

Inspired by the exercise, I decided to test whether I’m the only person at HBS who’s ever really experienced failure. As always, my classmates were eager to help…within hours of sending out e-mails to several classmates, messages jammed my inbox. Here’s a sample of what I received…
“I sold my energy company for $47MM when similar business models sold for $63MM.”
“I missed becoming the youngest brand manager in Kraft’s history by 6 hours.”
“I bought a green BMW before finding out that black models hold their value better.”
“I ran the New York marathon in 2:47:23 – seven seconds slower than my Boston time.” “My third book sold 50,000 fewer copies than my first two.”
“I missed winning the Gold in the 2000 Olympics by two tenths of a second.”
Ok, not exactly what I had in mind, but I guess it’s a start. I can at least say that I’m not the only person at HBS to experience some sort of failure. And, if nothing else, I’ve started the healing process. Who knew that taking kindergarten twice would take years to get over?

April 7, 2003
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