Tag Archives: failure

How Did We Get Here? A Moment to Reflect

Reflecting takes guts. I mean real reflecting. Not just the “that was a (fill-in-the-blank) experience” kind of reflection – anybody can do that cheap seat reflecting. I mean the authentic, deep, squishy, tingly reflecting. When we reflect, we need to do serious work, to learn from experience. If we succeeded, let’s learn so we can repeat it. If we failed, let’s learn so we don’t repeat it.

What To Reflect On

The act of truly, deeply reflecting isn’t easy. By “reflect” I mean to think deeply about something from the past. And through these reflections, we get a better understanding of how we made it to where we are in the present moment. That is a powerful, VERY powerful, gift we can give ourselves. One of the hard parts of reflecting is to know what to focus on. We all make mistakes. Lots of them! You know you do – own it, be cool with it, share it, learn from it. When reflecting, the most powerful lessons can be gleaned from the most uncomfortable and awkward experiences. Go to the dark corners of memories and experiences that scare you. Find where you took risks and failed, or where you succeeded but the goal was disingenuous. That’s where the gems are – go searching for them, and bring them into the light.

On the fun side, it is also powerful to reflect on the questions we ask. The learning that paves our life path comes from the questions we ask. Therefore, reflecting on that life path requires us to reflect on those questions. Think about why you asked those particular questions. What was so important about that question at that time?

My Reflections

I am not good at reflecting. I do not spend much time or energy looking back, but instead choose consciously to look forward. I often tell myself that’s because looking forward is more intriguing. But honestly, I think it’s because my past frightens me. Some of the choices I made, and the resulting consequences, are scary. Reflecting on those is quite emotional, and I don’t like emotions, I don’t like feeling them, talking about them, or confronting them. But I know I need to get more comfortable with this.

Because I don’t like the icky side of reflecting, I start with the questions. I ask a lot of questions (at least the voices in my head have lots of question-based conversations). When I was younger my questions had to do with hustling. I wanted to know how to get more drugs, quicker and cheaper. I wanted to know who could help me with this singular purpose. My questions were very shallowly focused on this pursuit. As I got older, my questions switched focus from destructive to more constructive, from self-focused to other-focused.

As I emerged from my drug fog, I began to ask questions about how to help others, about how to balance the karmic scales that I put well out of balance. I asked about my career path and other self-focused pursuits, but they were productive pursuits, not destructive. Once my wife helped me find my career path and pushed me down it, my questions focused on disrupting education. How can I enrich the classroom experience of students? How can I expose youth to entrepreneurial thinking? How can I destroy NCLB and Common Core and other destructive efforts? Why do we not let students have a voice in education? The questions are endless (it’s really a hassle sometimes!) I work every day to collaborate with others who can help answer these questions. It’s a grand existence!

But that existence is tempered during those few times when I reflect on the dark corners of my past. To be honest, it’s not often I go there. I don’t like to; I am scared, but I also do not see much point in that. I stole from many people, I cheated people, I lied to people, I manipulated and conned people. I was selfishness and greed defined. I sold drugs to many people – from very young children to very old adults, from people who had never used to people who desperately needed to stop using. I didn’t care who I sold to, as long as they had money. Period. Some of those faces I can still remember. That’s scary. But what happens when I reflect on these times in my life is that I become more passionate and energized about my current state and my current path in life. I do not do what I do because of my past, but my past does help fuel my desire to make a positive dent in the universe. I can make that dent through infusing entrepreneurship into education, at every single level. My reflections remind me of why I do what I do. They scare me into staying on this path. They are good and bad, they are light and dark.

My question to you: What do you reflect on? How does reflecting benefit you?

I Got Fired – Is That Bad?

The last time I got fired, I was 16 years old and I made a very conscious choice to party with my friends instead of show up to work. That was nearly 24 years ago. I got fired a few days ago. Not from my “food-on-the-table” job, but from a consulting sort of gig.

Getting Fired Sucks

It all boils down to fit. I did not fit with the direction the project was heading. I am always the first one to step out of the way if I’m going to impede progress of a good initiative – and this was a very good initiative. Fired due to lack of fit. Could be worse.

I will be the first to admit that I have a healthy ego and am pretty narcissistic. My wife will confirm this! Being fired does not suit my ego or narcissism very well, in fact it bruises it to some extent. That may not be a bad thing, but it certainly does not feel good. After the sting wore off, I began to think more deeply about being fired, what that means, and the opportunity that presents.

Getting Fired Isn’t So Bad

There are a number of reasons I came up with that getting fired isn’t so bad. Now, being a recovering addict, I realize this may be similar to making up excuses why today is a bad day to quit. However, here I go:

1. I have more time on my hands.

2. I have more intellectual bandwidth available for projects for which I am a good fit.

3. I reflect on my approach, my conversations, my interactions with people.

4. I have to review and update my CV (resume), my social media profiles.

5. I have to be humble with family, friends, colleagues. The family part stings pretty bad for one reason, and the colleagues part stings in an entirely different way. But equally as painful.

I have to reflect, I learn a little humility, I have more time and energy. None of those are a bad thing. Admittedly again, this is not my bread-and-butter job – that would be a different story. But any experience that requires us to reflect, to be humble, to take stock can’t be all that bad, can it?

Would You Fire Yourself?

This led me to look at other side gigs in my life right now. None of them are necessary; I took all of them on for one reason or another, but all I consider voluntary at this point. I asked myself if I would fire myself from any of them. This is a very tough inner journey that incorporates issues of self-worth, satisfaction, greed, narcissism, love, passion, and all things beautiful and ugly. I decided I would not fire myself from anything at this point.

One an intellectual level, I am not glad I was fired. I really enjoyed the possibility that project held to engage with a great audience and to accomplish something fantastic. On a more personal level, I can say I am somewhat glad I was fired – only because of the opportunity it presented me. I failed. In this particular project endeavor, I failed miserably. I put my everything into it, and I got fired. That failure presented a fantastic opportunity for me to pause, reflect, and learn. I am better for it (at least I will be next time around!)

My question to you: what would you fire yourself from?

Entrepreneurship of a Different Sort

Entrepreneurship is . . .

Entrepreneurship has many different definitions and variations.  I am often asked by students, colleagues, and various stakeholders of the organizations of which I am a part some version of the following question: “Have you ever started a business?”  I am in the midst of starting one right now (internrocket, which is aimed at blowing up the internship and hiring process by focusing on micro-project experiences).  So according to that traditional perspective of entrepreneurship, I am currently an entrepreneur.  I’ve tried a few in the past and failed miserably before much progress happened.  I’ve consulted for many folks who have started both successful and unsuccessful ones.  But the sorts of experiences I’ve had, I would argue, are equally (if not more so) valuable to my goal of engaging students in entrepreneurial thinking and doing.

The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship can be driven by necessity or by opportunity.  I grew up in a fortunate situation where I never had to think about necessity.  I always engaged in opportunity-driven entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurship can also be legal or illegal.  In my younger, more immature days, I engaged in illegal entrepreneurship.  In order to get the cocaine I needed, I started dealing for some heavy hitters out of Detroit.  I would put that experience against that of any entrepreneur any day.  I had to manage product.  I had to manage employees.  I had to manage financials.  I had to manage stakeholders.  I had to monitor competition.  Anything a “real” business does, I had to do.  But I had to do it with the highest of stakes.  Not that I wouldn’t have food on my table, or I wouldn’t have enough money to pay rent.  I would have a couple dudes called Slim (he wasn’t slim by the way) and Frosty visit me from Detroit.  I had to cheat and steal and manipulate and operate well over that line between moral and immoral.  Every day I had to make very real, very dangerous (physically and emotionally) choices.  I would say there is nothing more entrepreneurial that this sort of experience.  It certainly shaped my current world view of what is possible and of how to get it.

The Bright Side of Entrepreneurship

As I matured and realized I needed to clean my life up, I turned to education.  As an educator, I am extremely entrepreneurial.  I look for opportunities to disrupt the broken ways of teaching that we too strongly hold onto.  I look for the failures of those who’ve come before me, and I give myself every chance to try some new method or technique, and to fail.  I hustle my ass off – weaving students, faculty, alumni, colleagues, associations, entrepreneurs, investors from around the world together around fantastic experiences.

Am I an entrepreneur?  I honestly don’t know what that means (Babson College is doing some cool projects around defining that word).  But my answer is categorically YES! So when I get asked that question about whether I’ve started a business, I often reply by letting people know that I’ve been entrepreneurial from an early age.  As my path through life changes, the focus of my entrepreneurial spirit changes.  But that spirit has always been in me.  Is it in you?  How does it manifest itself?  Find the opportunity.  Learn to fail.  And hustle.  The results will be extraordinary!

Education Comes Through Opportunity, Failure, Hustle

How does one succeed in education?  How does one succeed as an entrepreneur?

To me, three words:  OpportunityFailureHustle.

My Education

Opportunity

These three words define me and my path through life.  I grew up comfortable – not rich by any means (my father was a math professor after all and even though he was ridiculously intelligent and a workaholic, he was a math professor in the 1970s and 1980s of my youth).  My parents afforded me unbelievable opportunities.  Private school and boarding school.  Toys and books and sports – all the things important to a young boy.  Each opportunity came my way, and more often than not, I failed at realizing each one.  Not that I ever worked hard at them.  You see, I had an older sister, and she set a bar I felt I couldn’t reach.  I know, typical story, right?  So my parents thrust all these opportunities my way – all of them wonderful and some of them potentially life-changing.  But I failed, over and over again, by choice.

Failure

I failed at realizing the opportunities my parents so kindly placed before me.  Because I was convinced I couldn’t meet the bar my older sister set.  I accepted these failures, but didn’t learn to learn from them until I was much older.  See, failure, it turns out, is the most powerful learning force there is.  Fail at something, feel like shit, ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, angry, humiliated . . . whatever the feeling it’s not pleasant.  Stand up and choose to learn from that and I promise it’s a powerful learning experience.  I kept failing and not learning.  Until I figured out that there are good choices and there are bad choices.  My sister would always outdo me when it came to good choices.   She wasn’t a goody-two-shoes.  I always thought of those types as ones who really tried at being good, they had to work at it, and it was awkward.  My sister didn’t try, it was just natural.  It was her spirit.  I couldn’t compete with that.  I quickly found bad choices, and realized I could be really good at those.  I didn’t fail any more!  Now I was a success.  And to be a success at the bad choices, I had to hustle.

Hustle

We all hustle.  It’s that drive that pushes us toward a goal.  It’s that fire that wakes us up, that gets us through the day, that keeps us up at night.  Some of us hustle for good, some of us hustle for bad, some of us hustle for ourselves, some of us hustle for others.  But make no mistake – we all hustle.  It’s a beautiful thing!

Hustle
Photo Credit: C. Ha via Compfight cc

I saw opportunity all around me – kids getting high and paying lots of money to do it.  I had failed many times at trying to be “good”.  So I turned my hustle to dealing drugs.  I was good at this hustle.  For many years.  Learned to read people, learned to negotiate, learned to sell, learned about numbers and cash flow and profit and loss.  Learned about customer relationships and supplier relationships.  Learned about  . . . way a second, sounds real similar to the kinds of things my business school courses claimed to have taught me.  You know what?  I don’t remember shit from those courses.  But I remember all kinds of lessons I learned from the hustle.  So if we could make education a system where students hustle to realize opportunities and learn from failure, students would have a better learning experience.  That’s my hypothesis, and I’m sticking to it.  So what are these three elements about?  Why are they so important?

Opportunity

Opportunities bombard us every day, through every one of our senses.  They seriously do – while I at times enjoy this sensory overload, most days it drives me bananas.  Any time we hear someone bitching about something BOOM! that’s an opportunity.  Any time we see someone struggle with something – physically, mentally, emotionally – BOOM! that’s an opportunity.  Anytime you see or hear giddiness, BOOM!  that’s an opportunity. And then there are those times in the shower, in your car and other private moments we don’t need to discuss when those seemingly stupid ideas flood the dull moments.  Opportunities never stop – we just have to be alert to them.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, just someone who is in tune with their surroundings, and with them self.  Just pay attention to what the fuck is going on around you.  Stop trying to create opportunities and look and listen – there are more than enough already there waiting to be realized, there’s no need to undertake the impossible task of creating one.

Failure

So the opportunities are out there, so what?  So pick one that’s interesting and act on it. Take a class, talk to a group of interesting people, learn a craft, try a new food, travel to a new location, reverse-engineer a product.  The list goes on – but only if you care enough to hold down the off button and be alert.

Off Button
Photo Credit: عدسة شاب سوري – Young syrian’s Lens via Compfight cc

If someone wants to try and learn something, or wants to try their hand at entrepreneurship – if these are the opportunities that they seize, hate to say it but they’re likely going to fail.  So what?  We’ve been failing all our life – since we were trying to figure out how to roll over unsuccessfully.  Seriously – think about it.  You failed in school.  You failed in sports.  You failed socially.  Failure is as much a part of life as are opportunities. They co exist and keep us on our toes.   And give us a chance to hone the most valuable skill possible: hustling.

Hustle

Some people cringe at the word.  It kind of makes me glow.  I love to hustle.  I love to figure out how to make something happen.  I love to work under pressure.  It’s a beautiful thing!  Because it’s a universal language of getting shit done.  No matter where you are, no matter who you’re talking to, no matter how different you are, everyone understands hustling.  Because in order to avoid failure, we hustle.  In order to take advantage of opportunities, we hustle.  It’s a glorious cycle of sorts I guess.  It’s the action that connects opportunity and failure in an enduring circle.  Learn from one, then experience the other.

Education: Back To Why We’re Here

So what does this have to do with education?  Education is at a crossroads, on a precipice, whatever one wants to call it, it’s a critical juncture.  We can proceed with the standard Baby Boomer model delivering education.  Or we can implement a more Millenial standard of hustling.  There are so many opportunities now being created in the educational technology space.  Technology enables educators to share resources and experiences in real-time.  The opportunities are endless to disrupt this tired, broken model of education.  Failure is inevitable, because we’re dealing with extraordinarily bureaucratic support.  Because it’s a new frontier.  Because while the possibilities are endless, it doesn’t mean all of them are good ones.  But we need to start trying them out.  We need to start hustling.  No more talking (you hear me you stodgy old academics?)  Get off your asses, forget about your conservative ways of approaching education, and start disrupting.  Be entrepreneurial.  Hustle!

Education and Entrepreneurship: My Introduction

Our education system is broken.  Entrepreneurship represents the best option, as a discipline and as a way of thinking, to fix it.  We need to look for and realize opportunities.  We need to hustle.  We need to fail and learn from it.

Here I share my thoughts on how to inject entrepreneurship into the education system.

Here I share my reflections on trying to inject entrepreneurship into the education system.

Here are my attempts to live at the intersection of education and entrepreneurship.  Transparent.  Student-focused.  Disruptive.  Honest.