I’ve failed far more times than I’ve succeeded in my life, but I consider these to be my greatest hits (in chronological order)…
From the time I was eight years old and my older brother got accepted to Stanford University, I knew I was going to go to Stanford too. Then, when I was in 6th-grade, my older sister was also accepted to Stanford. By then, I knew I was definitely going to get in. So, can you imagine my disappointment when I received that tiny envelope in the Spring of my Senior year… The dreaded rejection letter. The envelope was already opened as Mom couldn’t wait for me to get home that day, and the lack of enthusiasm in her voice when she gave me the letter told the whole story. The previous ten years of planning, talking about, and dreaming about going to Stanford were all mis-guided. It was the biggest goal that I had set to date…
After three years of working at IBM as Software Engineering co-op, I discovered one very important thing about my career: I really didn’t want to be a software engineer. At the beginning of my Senior year, IBM held a career fair for all the graduating Seniors who had already been working at the company during school. Unfortunately for me, the only position I was really interested in was called a Principle, which was essentially a Technical Sales position, for which there was no pathway to from my engineering background. So, I half-heartedly went through a number of interviews for jobs I really didn’t want and of course didn’t get. Ultimately, so as not to waste the three years they had already invested in me, IBM made me an offer of $65k/year to work in their support group. And though this salary might seem amazing for a 22-year-old, I knew I had to decline it.
In the Spring of 2005, I married my college sweetheart, who had followed me and my career from California to Dallas, and from Dallas to Florida. On paper, it was a perfect match… Both educated, ambitious, well-traveled, young, dumb, and full of ourselves. Even so, we didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye: I thought the world revolved around me, and she was adamantly convinced that it should revolve around her. As such, after only nine-months of marriage, she left.
I was 28 years old when I called my Director at Texas Instruments and sent him my resignation letter. No, I wasn’t accepting a better position at a different company, I was simply quitting what most people would consider a dream job with a huge salary, in favor of “some time off to figure things out”. I’m pretty sure that most people thought I was crazy, but I don’t think anyone was more upset than my parents. “Why did we work so hard to help you get an education and a high paying job if all you were going to do was throw it all away?” Disappointing my parents…
After two years of traveling around the world as a professional volunteer and humanitarian missionary, my wife and I had set our hearts on moving to Costa Rica full time in order to serve in the barrios of San Jose. All we had to do was raise $24K / year of funding. With our extended networks and church families, this should have been no problem. It was only $12k/year each! And yet, we didn’t even break the $8k mark, collectively. In our hearts, we thought we were sacrificing our comforts and our futures for the work of the ministry, and yet, we couldn’t raise the money. Everything we owned was packed into a storage unit, we had no place to live, and our bank accounts were running dry. And we weren’t moving anywhere.
The Necessity of Failure
Up until I had received that rejection letter from Stanford, I had planned out my life according to what I thought other people wanted or expected of me. I planned out my life according to what I thought made sense, according to the standards of society, and going to Stanford was at the foundation of it all. So, when that piece of the plan crumbled, I was left to dance with the unknown.
And it has been that unknown that has made all the difference.
Had I gone to Stanford instead of Santa Clara, I wouldn’t have met Fernando, who got me to apply to Inroads, who setup my interview at IBM. I wouldn’t have become a brother of Nu Alpha Kappa, and I wouldn’t have met my college sweetheart. If it weren’t for IBM, I wouldn’t have gotten the job at TI and if weren’t for my divorce, I wouldn’t have gone through all that counseling and poured myself into my faith. If it weren’t for my faith journey, I wouldn’t have questioned my purpose in life and quit my corporate job at TI. And if I hadn’t I hadn’t quit my job, Bonnie would have never gone out with me, because she wasn’t into corporate schmucks.
If we had gone to Costa Rica full time, I wouldn’t have become the COO of the non-profit in Florida, which meant I couldn’t have gotten fired from the non-profit, which means I wouldn’t have become a full time teacher in Florida, which means I wouldn’t have been qualified to be a full-time teacher in Utah, which means we wouldn’t have moved back to my hometown and our kids wouldn’t have grown up so close to their Mamita y Papito, Tias y Tios…
God Bless the Broken Road
In the moment, the failures seemed almost insurmountable. But in hindsight, they were all necessary for the later successes to occur. Understanding this, I see failures differently now. I almost welcome them, though I try to move past them quickly, as the precedent indicates that the brightest days are still ahead.
Whether I welcome failure or not, I know it is coming. It always comes. Even Jesus Christ himself experienced rejection and persecution to the extent of crucifixion, despite not welcoming it. And yet, it was necessary, for without the crucifixion, there could not have been a resurrection.
When compared to death, on a cross, my failures are minuscule. And when compared to rising from the dead, so are my successes. Even so, they are what God has put in my path today, and they are part of my journey in which much faith is needed. I will not make excuses for my simple plights. These are the cards I have been dealt, and it is only my responsibility to play them the best I can.
This life is a test.
Most recently, I failed at a Kickstarter for a self-help / personal memoir entitled Journey Notes… :)