Yes, you read that right.
The main reason I abandoned my full scholarship at the best university in New Zealand was a burning desire to fail.
Let me explain. The fear of failure that pervades modern society is, in my view, a frustratingly misguided approach to progress. I’m not the first person to realize this. Michael Jordan famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Famed director Woody Allen said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” When we hear these quotes, we nod in agreement, and stick them on our walls, or our laptops to inspire us.
Believing something and acting on something are two very different things, however. Actually moving past the fear of embarrassment, or judgement, is incredibly difficult. Think of the last time you were in a situation where failure was a possibility. Did you look fear in the eyes and take two steps forward, or did you let it stop you from taking a risk?
Throughout high school, my bedroom walls were covered in quotes reminiscent of the ones above. Seeing them every morning when I woke up made me feel like a risk-taker. In truth, however, failure terrified me. I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t good at things. I didn’t want to be laughed at, or ridiculed, or made to feel inadequate.
So I reveled in feeling comfortable at the University of Auckland. I was happily positioned at the top of my classes, had an established group of friends, lived in the home I’d lived in for 10 years, had a routine, and knew the city like the back of my hand. The list goes on. And while it’s not a bad list by any means, it represents an aversion to failure. Essentially, by staying within my comfort zone, I had insulated myself from the risk of failure.
When the link to the Minerva website was passed on to me by a mentor, I was presented with the chance to change this. Transferring to Minerva would give me the opportunity to remove all the insulation I had built around myself over the past 19 years. If I joined, I would be travelling to seven different countries in four years, studying an incredibly demanding curriculum, joining a university program with no graduates, forming a completely new group of friends, and putting almost 11,000 kilometers between myself and my home. Each of these things sat beyond my comfort zone, making the possibility of not succeeding that much scarier. They made my mind buzz with excitement, while at the same time they left my stomach flipping with fear. They were things I knew I should do, but that required an awful lot of courage to actually do them.
So I went for it. I committed to transferring to Minerva because I wanted to grow in the most deliberate and rapid way possible.
Failure is the single best method to learn and grow. Michael Jordan wasn’t just cradling his ego for missing all those shots. He was outlining a simple and vital truth. When we fail, and then pay attention to the cause of our failure, we learn incredibly quickly. We can identify specific areas to improve, actively make changes, and then test these changes in our lives. The feedback that failure provides gives us a platform for constant iteration and improvement. If we don’t fail often, then we don’t get this feedback and have less information to catalyze our growth. This is true across all aspects of life, from academics to relationships to health. I want to be a person who grows with every day I am given. If it takes a willingness to fail in order to do so, then fail is what I will do.
I came here to fail, and boy I’m doing a good job of it. I’ve made mistake, after mistake, after mistake. The other week I managed to shrink all of my socks in the laundry to the size of baby feet, completely miss two meetings, and pour three hours into a piece of writing which ended up being scrapped — all in one night. I’ve been making mistakes every day for the last six months. Failure is commonplace in my life now. And yet, I’ve grown more in the last six months than in any other six-month period I’ve experienced, by a long shot.
Coincidence? I think not.