The greatest artists like Dylan, Picasso and Newton risked failure. And if we want to be great, we’ve got to risk it too –Steve Jobs
Today’s episode is about a very personal yet inspiring email exchange I had 6 years ago with a very good friend of mine. Her name is Gita Sjahrir, we met back in business school and have been good friends ever since. She is the Co-Founder and Chief Rider of Ride Studio- Indonesia's first boutique indoor cycling studio. She is literally one of those super magnetic people that you simply can't resist being around. Back in 2012 when I was pregnant for my daughter, Gita and I met up for a delicious lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. And as we often did, we talked about all things under the sun. From our relationships to our dreams to our failures to our hopes. Shortly after that conversation, Gita sent me a very heart provoking email with an article that she wrote (titled: What I Done Did With My Schoolings) that still inspires me to this very day. I usually find myself reading it over and over again. As a result, I felt really compelled to share this email with you (of course, with her permission). In this episode, I share Gita's wisdom from our email exchange and her article because she teaches us how our failures get us back on track to pursuing our childhood dreams. Listening to this episode, you'll hear how a major ‘perceived’ failure helped her reconnect with the dreams of her 10-year-old self, and how our fancy dreams may be preventing us from truly following our heart’s calling. Gita is such a transparent writer and wise soul, and I truly hope you find this episode as inspiring as I do. In Gita's words: “Don't be afraid. Trust yourself. Push along. If not for you, then follow your heart, because it is the right thing to do”. And as she also says: "Never be comfortable, never stop dreaming."
For more juicy bits, listen below.
Here is the email exchange in full:
I am here in Jakarta and I was working at my book, slaving away, writing about finding courage to start again. And then I thought of you. I thought of our conversation at Le Pain and how much you wanted to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams. The whole thought made me miss you, but more than anything, it inspired me, too.
Well, I'm sending you this little thing I wrote a while back. I wrote it for myself at first. It was my way of soothing my bruised ego when my startup failed. I sent it to my mom and a friend, and they all ended up forwarding the letter along to numerous people. I actually have no idea how many people have read it at this point. But the reason I'm sending this to you is to encourage you to not be afraid. Don't be afraid. Trust yourself. Push along. If not for you, then follow your heart, because it is the right thing to do.
I wish you well and let's see each other more.
WHAT I DONE DID WITH MY SCHOOLINGS
Is grammar dead? Yes, that title was not misspelled, and yes – I know it’s done did wrong. But I wrote it, because I really wonder what have I done with all the fancy degrees and well-written resumes that have peppered my life's passport. If I have no success, no millions of dollars to show for it at this point, would any and all of my effort matter? Have I accumulated the factors needed to show to my friends and family, "See? I got a lot. I made a lot. I do matter"? With nothing in my hand, am I worthy of it all?
Recently, my new business partner decided not to continue with the project that he and I have been working on for the past two months. Although I was disappointed, I supported his decision, because I believe that you should only dedicate your heart, mind, effort and time into something that you one hundred percent believe in. Yet, it was still painful to know that I am now back to square one. So, I did what any other normal entrepreneur would do in this situation. I went to a bar.
After a good glass of beer or four, I went home to my apartment and pondered. I thought what will be of my new venture, and how can I do it alone? I believe and know in my heart that I will be successful at whatever it is that I put my mind into, but now my confidence is wavering. By the good grace of Yahoo, which is my default browser site (I may be one of the very few people in the 21st century to still use a yahoo email address and be proud of it), I accidentally stumbled upon Yahoo! News’ top picks for graduation commencement speeches. They are: Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford, Conan O’ Brien’s speech at Dartmouth and Ellen De Generes’ speech at Tulane University. In all of these speeches, the celebrities talked about following your dreams and your passion, living without fear and believing in yourself. Very simple concepts, if you think about it. You really don’t need to hear it from a celebrity, or someone who invented Pixar and Apple. But, after twenty-one years or so of studying, most college graduates will move farther and farther away from following their hearts as they enter the so-called “real world.” Before that, fresh faced and bright eyed, students graced the halls of their respected colleges as freshmen, with dreams of being a screenwriter, a civil rights lawyer, the next American President and, for me, well – actually, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then again, I was simply following the 80% of the University of Chicago freshman class, most of whom will not decide on a major until the end of the second year. But, as a little girl? I wanted to be a ballerina, of course.
We all started with dreams and high hopes of being the best versions of ourselves. We believe we could change the world and have it in our hands. But, reality starts seeping in months into our time in college when we are faced with adult questions, such as: “What are you going to do for a living? How are you going to pay the bills? Student loans?” And with that, we started compromising our dreams. This time, instead of being a screenwriter, maybe you will attend law school, work as a corporate lawyer to pay the bills, loans, take care of your family and then perhaps pick up screenwriting again when you have some free time when you’re 65. Thus, screenwriting has taken a backseat, slowly but surely a dying dream. This is the irony. For some reason, the fancy schools you attended in the hopes of helping you reach your dreams have in fact deterred you from your childhood goals. Granted, we do change our ideas of success as we age, but at the same time, the ten-year-old-you never forgot what he wanted to do, which was to be awesome and different. The ten-year-old-you wanted to build things, create magic, invent, love and live. That boy lived without fear. Yet, as you got older, you learned how to muffle the child inside you. You learned fear and you learned to avoid it as much as possible.
The concept of fear is even more ingrained as you advance further into your career. One of the most common problems with getting fancy school degrees is that it compels you to be more risk-averse. This means that you become even more afraid of taking professional and personal risks, because they are less predictable and, thus, scary. The fear of losing money, status, respect from our families and classmates is enough to stop us from taking steps towards realizing the dreams we once had. We are scared of finally writing that book, starting that website, creating our own fashion label, joining a band or starting a non-profit. We bitch about how we don’t have enough time, money or experience. Yet, who does? There will be no such thing as enough money, enough time and enough bullet points on your resume. The fact is everyone has their own set of challenges and obstacles. The question is are you daring enough to keep going for your dreams after knowing your odds.
Steve Jobs did. So did Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres. This is why we loved hearing them at these commencements and tweet, retweet and watch their videos over and over again. Steve Jobs, Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres are not that very different from us. In fact, two people on that list never even finished college. Yet, without fancy degrees and famous school names to back them up, they did what they loved, and that was the only thing that they knew they should keep doing. They fought for their dreams, even when they got their own show cancelled, or when they got fired from Apple and almost lost their fortunes. They were fighters, dreamers and believers. They never stayed comfortable, and they always stayed a little foolish. They didn’t let that ten-year-old believer in them wither. This is why we admire them, because they did what many of us will not do: Believe, Live and Stay Brave.
Looking back, did I know I was going to fail when I started my venture? Of course not. Why the hell would I do something if it was not going to work out? And, like the many business school grads, I checked all the boxes and did my homework to make sure my start-up got off the ground. Well, it didn't. Will it one day? I know it will. If anything, setbacks fire me up more than ever. When I got fired, I ended up building a company. When my first business model failed, I ended up doing freelance work as a writer. When my current partner fell back, I started looking into ways to improve this model and code the site. Life has been a series of seemingly random events that are beginning to connect in ways I never imagined. So, here is my bucket list of dreams I had as a kid:
1. Be a ballerina with the Royal Academy of Dance in London
2. Be a Broadway actress and sing in Phantom of the Opera
3. Marry Mark Paul Gosselaar
4. Write a book about being awesome
And, here is my list of achievements for now:
1. I taught dance in Chicago and then to some real beginners at Wharton.
2. I sang in concert halls in Boston, Puerto Rico, Greece, Turkey and Washington DC, amongst others, as a classical singer.
3. I did NOT marry Mark Paul Gosselar, but traversed the hilarious NY dating scene, instead.
4. I am finally writing that book about being awesome AND bipolar.
As it turns out, I am not too far off from my ten-year-old self, save for wanting to marry a Saved By the Bell character. I veered here and there, just like anyone would. I worked in jobs I didn’t like, because they made a lot of money. I worked in jobs I thought I was going to like, but turned out I hated those jobs. I went to networking events, where all people cared about was how much money I made (more like lack thereof, in my case). All the schools I attended made me more risk averse and afraid of chances in the end. Yet, if it were not for failures, I would have stopped dreaming and continued to be afraid, just like most people from my schools. I would have kept going the predictable route and become that corporate lawyer my family would have loved to see. I would have been comfortable, yet also a bit lost and sad that I have lost myself somewhere in the process. The good news is I failed enough to not make those predictable and safer choices. I learned that those, who are crazy enough to take chances, should rock this crazy world.
You see, although I failed to check off my childhood bucket list, I actually never let my ten-year-old self go. From what I remember, she was tenacious, a little weird, unpredictable, but determined. Seeing all the things I have accomplished so far, and all the failures I have had to experience, I’m happy to know that I still went for what I believed in, which was to create and invent things. As a writer and entrepreneur, I get to do that on a daily basis. As Steve Jobs said, “stay hungry, stay foolish.” And as I say: Never be comfortable, never stop dreaming.