Saturday, 24 August 2013

A Resume of Failure

This post was inspired by a chapter from the book What I Wish I Knew When I Was Twenty: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in The World, where the author, a neuroscientist and the chairperson of the Stanford Entrepreneurship Program, listed her very own failure resume.

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I will share some personal details here, and I do feel that some people will judge, but it's okay. I am sharing these in the spirit of learning from our failures :-)

I will be brave here and say it as it is. Once upon a time, I cheated on a longtime boyfriend and blindingly threw out our long friendship (he was a friend for a long time before we became an item) and our long term plans for someone who I thought was my "intellectual" equal.

What I learned: Cheating never pays. A relationship that begins with cheating will most likely never come to any good.

In hindsight, I realized that the cheating part made me realize that the ex-bf and I have divergent paths in life. His words after we had closure and began talking, " Gusto ko yung simpleng buhay lang, ikaw kasi complicated." I realize now that at that time, I knew deep inside that there was something missing, and was looking for something more, but still, there is no excuse for cheating and for hurting other people. There is nothing worse than the guilt after realizing thatyou've destroyed someone's trust and hurt someone who placed all his faith in you. It took time for me to forgive myself for that mistake.

A BUSINESS FAILURE: Kaya Jam making and my first failed venture
In 2007, long before all those Kopi Roti shops began sprouting in Manila, I worked briefly in Malaysia and fell in love with a local spread called Kaya Jam. Kaya Jam, if you still do not know what it is, is a distant relative of our Coco Jam. The ingredients are the same, except that kaya jam is flavored with pandan and has eggs which gives it a creamier consistency. Upon returning to the Philippines, I experimented and made kaya jam from scratch with the naive plan of making it a home based business. Seriously, those kaya jam experiments were hard work. To make kaya jam, one must stir the mixture of kakang gata, egg, and pandan for at least an hour before you get the right consistency. I remember going to the market with our then helper everyday to buy fresh coconuts, eggs, and pandan, then I would prepare my pans and stand by the stove for hours, making batches and batches of the jam.

I "sold" these to our neighbors and forced my father to give them to his friends. At one point, I found a prospective business partner in Pinas who was willing to infuse capital but I would have to do all the backbreaking work of cooking and packing the jams. I was so in a hurry to start the business that I even made variants of my kaya jam --- ube kaya jam, banana langka kaya jam and such. When I gave samples to the business partner of the three flavors I've developed, he told me that there was something off with the texture of my jam, it wasn't as smooth as those found in Malaysia. That sure was disheartening to hear! And then I got my papers for a job in London, so my kaya jam business never really took off. After a few years, with all those Kopi Roti joints opening up in Manila, kaya jam is now something familiar to Filipinos, or at least those who are our target market. If only I persevered with my kaya jam, ano?

I spent so much time and a considerable amount of money trying to perfect my kaya jam then that until now, I can still remember the ingredient ratios and make kaya jam from memory. with my eyes closed.

What I learned: Starting a food business takes time and a lot of experimentation. One should allot enough time to perfect the product formulation. Yes, it is good to get feedbacks from people during the testing stage, but also know that one will get super divergent reactions: Some will praise the product to high heavens, some , like my prospective business partner did, will diss it. The important thing is that as the owner of the idea, you have to learn to filter these feedbacks and make a stand on what you really want for your product.

It also reinforced my belief that I had the knack for spotting trends way before these become mainstream. Thus, in the venture I did next, the TLCShop, I capitalized on this, and I continue to introduce goodies to the shop's clients, relying mostly on gut feel and my personal preferences to gauge if these items will click with the clients. I also realized after years of doing online transactions that one has to know her target clients. I cannot please everyone, or in business parlance, a business cannot be everything to everybody. I somehow have an idea of my client demographics and from there, I work out goodies that I like personally and/or that I think they will like.

Once upon a time, straight out of college, I harbored an intense love for poetry. I loved poetry so much that I began writing poems myself. I had this grand delusion that I can be a poet. I had a few poems published in two Sunday weekly magazines and thought that wow this is it! I am a poet! So naive, no? I was so full of myself that I sent an application to a prestigious Writing Workshop one summer, not even caring to edit my works. The ending, I wasn't even shortlisted for the workshop haha! That was a bit of a smack in the head for me. Months later, I realized this: My passion for poetry stems mostly from the joy I get reading poems not for any mastery or talent on my part. I still love poetry, I still turn to reading poems to calm my nerves ( I know, I'm weird that way, but that's just how it is :-)) but I also now know that writing poetry is not something I will ever be good at. Of course, If I try hard enough, spend enough hours teaching myself how to write poems, I could possibly end up writing passable poems, but who'd want that? Why waste hours in doing stuff that you cannot really excel in? I've explored and tried becoming a poet and failed. That's just it. Did I stop reading poetry after I failed at writing poems? Of course not! Reading poetry has become the only way to indulge in my passion for it. I still love the magic, the clearness of head, the enchantment I get from reading beautiful poems.

AN ATTITUDE FAILURE : "A square peg will never fit into a round hole"
That's a beautiful expression that reinforces a belief that have figured more strongly now that I am in my early thirties. When I was younger, I tried my best to fit into a mold that people were expecting me to fill --- obedient, dependable daughter who can stand on her own. You know, the one you can just forget about because she'll do what is right. I used to be very quiet about my own problems and would take things to heart, grieving in silent. Well, I'd like to think I am still obedient and dependable and surely, I can now stand on my own. But I have learned to voice out my anger when I see injustice and wrongdoings. It's easier for the heart and your sanity to voice out your issues and to not deal with troubling things on your own.

I eventually learned to shut off the noise of other people's opinions and to listen first to my inner voice. I realize that modern life presents us with too many possibilities and a lot of opportunities. We have to take a stand on how we choose to live, what chances to take and what to discard. To not be swayed too much by other people's beliefs of how we should live.

These are only four of the many failures I've had in my life. I am also sure there will be more, lol. But as Tina Seelig so beautifully points out, sure, failure isn't fun, but failures allow us to learn deeply. Failures are part and parcel of our journey to our individual success. Life is a trial and error thing. If we do not fail, then that means we're not growing at all. Failing means we are putting ourselves out there and getting as much from life as possible.

So cheers to failing and learning! What about you? Why not write your own failure resume and see what you've gleamed, what life-defining things have you learned from your failures?

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