Path to Failure

If you read my post on Rising from Failure, then you would know that I am not a stranger to failure. I almost feel like my traditional K-12 education set me up for it. Let me explain.

I loved school. I enjoyed getting good grades and being recognized for my brains. Growing up, I thought that the the way to get a decent job after leaving school was to get good grades in school (it’s also what is drilled into our heads in developing south Asian countries and is true for many). Right out of school I applied for a job at ACNielsen (a market research company that now goes by the name Nielsen), by listing all the grades I got in the G.C.E O/L and A/L exams. That filled up a little over half the page of my resume (Go me!). When the interviewer asked me to tell her something about myself I was so clueless, I talked about my mom, dad and brothers. It sounded like a first grade essay on “My Family.” I still cringe at the memory. I think they were desperate because I got the job. I know better than to think it had anything to do with my stellar resume or interview. I happily quit a few months in to go to attend Singapore Management University and my joy soon turned to tears. The pressure of the course load, independent learning, having to actually think for myself and not have everything spoon-fed to me…it was all more than I could handle. I also didn’t know how to navigate the internet (use Google effectively), or write a paper, any paper. The other students read Harvard Business Review for fun. I was figuring out how to use PowerPoint and went entire nights without sleep trying to get all my assigned reading done. I didn’t even have time to read Calvin and Hobbes for fun let alone the Harvard Business Review. Individual and group projects were mandatory parts of every class and I was barely able to keep up with any of it. Because I knew that it was costly for my dad to pay for room and board for me in Singapore I wanted to finish school as fast as I could and took a full course load of 5 classes each term even though I couldn’t handle it. It was the first time in my life that I felt stupid because no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t learn the material. Because I derived my self-worth from my intelligence, and it seemed like I was actually stupid, I became very depressed.

So I told myself the lie that programming was not my thing. Economics, business and all that was not my thing. I began to believe the lie that my brain was not wired to learn that stuff. These lies were less

painful to believe than the lie that I was stupid. If you read my other post, you know I eventually changed schools and majors and became a middle school science teacher. But I have never forgotten my first college experience nor that embarrassing interview.

Why was my resume so pathetic and my interview so childish? I didn’t have a clue, that’s why! In fact, I had just gone to another interview and not taken a resume at all and the interviewee kindly but firmly advised me that it’s the thing to do. I had just finished school and the last 2 years of high school was spent learning physics, chemistry and biology. There was no place for learning real world skills. I was just expected to memorize and regurgitate. Why did I fail in Singapore? I was frequently expected to work from a place that was beyond my zone of proximal development. That means, even with guidance, I was unable to complete the tasks given to me. To be in the sweet spot of learning (the zone of proximal development) I had to be able to complete tasks with some guidance. I had gone from from zero tech to high tech overnight with not even a rudimentary idea of IT or business and was expected to give a presentation on Search Engine Optimization and I didn’t even know how to navigate PowerPoint (really did happen). I also

had not learned how to use the internet to learn those things I didn’t know, and I didn’t even know what I didn’t know until it was too late.

If like me, you have tried and failed in the past and have given up as a result, analyze your failure objectively, as an outsider, and see what factors could have contributed to your failing. I am not the same person I was 15 years ago. I know so much more now. You can learn from my mistakes and not repeat them. With the computer and the internet we really have no excuse not to learn anything we want. So what is holding you back? Do you know how to use this most amazing internet so you can learn and also share? What lies have you told yourself? How can you be conscious of your zone of proximal development (ZPD) so when you are stuck you don’t think you are stupid but go back a few steps and start over (with a teacher or some resource on the internet)? There is always a path that leads to failure. Use that path to find your way out of failure.