Pivoting to Veer Away Failures
Recently, one particular idea, more than anything else, has been sticking with me: tenacity. Life inevitably has peaks and troughs, and the key difference between potential outcomes lies not in circumstance but in attitude. Although it can oftentimes appear that we have been dealt an unwarranted bad hand, the tenacious will look at the situation and instead of wallowing in self-pity, will realize ten options that can turn around the situation.
This naturally translates to the life of the university student. Final exam nightmares, summer internship rejections, and social woes all require tenacity to see how to act and how to reposition as to move again in a positive direction. The greatest successes today have come at the hands of leaders who realized that when a downturn occurs, actions can only be taken in changing the future, not the past. From Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk, it was the fearless persistence in the face of colossal odds that lead to their grand ascent through their businesses.
Jeff Bezos purposefully generated a culture at Amazon that tries innumerable new products and services and holds no qualms with continually sidelining those ideas which fail at commercialization. Elon Musk took on huge challenges with new companies the likes of which the world had never before seen. His famed commercial space corporation, SpaceX, nearly went bankrupt before its first triumphant launch. Again, infallibility does not exist, but pragmatic pivoting shows more possibilities and, therefore, more chances for success.
As Steve Jobs once pointedly commented, “A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
Simply put, Jobs suggested that each individual has a unique perspective and mode of analysis that comes from his or her life experiences; in order to do something novel and exciting, you have to seek out diverse experiences from your peer group. To that end, I want to make a list for the captivated, motivated reader of possible alternative experiences to the standard basket of internships and study abroad locations that become so trite in higher education.
- Spend a summer in a continent you have never been to before
- Study abroad in a country that does not speak your native language nor subscribes to Western culture
- If you are a creative, try a class in the sciences (and vice versa)
- Take your favorite character from a book, movie, or any story and try to mimic their life or certain habits (short of doing anything illegal)
- Try a job you would never imagine doing or wanting
Basically, even if you really want a corporate job at the end of your time as a student, do not make each summer you spend at a corporate job because you will likely be doing that for the rest of your life anyway: Go work as a chef in Mongolia! Be a novelist in Cuba! Live in a village in Madagascar! Hitchhike to Idaho! The nuance I am here trying to make is not the classic story of perseverance but rather a tale of continually shifting focus when one pathway proves no longer to be fruitful. So frequently in academics, you can be told how unimportant one bad grade is and to instead potentially reevaluate your study habits. I instead propose that instead of reevaluating your study habits or deciding that your issue was a problem of magnitude (not enough hours, not enough writing, etc.), that you should go ahead and try something radically different for the next go around. Maybe that subject that you will love and will be super intuitive for you is simply one you never considered. Maybe the reason you do not understand certain people or subjects is just because you have not seen enough diversity and experienced enough different places and cultures to appreciate their perspective.
This should not be a suggestion but a call to action. Failures do and will happen, but those who have broader worldliness will be able to look past it and find new opportunities that previously seemed hidden. Through seeking out diverse exposure, you will have a better and fuller perspective and analysis than those who only focused on computer science or finance and chose only to spend summers at Google or Goldman Sachs. Don’t be ordinary! Be curious!