Friday, June 27, 2008

The Fringe Benefits of Failure (JK Rowling's Harvard Commencement Speech 2008)

If you've got a few minutes, check out J.K. Rowling's Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” She has had her fair share of failure (before Harry Potter, of course) and certainly knows a little something about imagination. It's always reassuring to hear life lessons from the people who have made it big, remembering that they weren't always successful.

I've always believed that challenges and failure can offer great value in learning more about who you are and how you want to grow. It forces you to analyze and reassess, which is often overlooked as we race from one thing to the next. Failure offers an immense opportunity for growth (albeit painful), and when digested with a healthy perspective it can lead to even greater successes in the future.

You can find the full text or watch the video here, courtesy of Harvard Magazine. Excerpt below (emphasis mine).

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

As overachievers, we may logically understand the benefits of failure but our aversion to it is so strong that it keeps us from taking that path. But as you're thinking about graduating, moving to a new city, starting a company, or changing jobs, remember that what you learn from failure will set you up for success. Hey, it worked for JK Rowling, didn't it?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Small Business Coaching (and Free Sample Business Plans)

Not surprisingly, many of my career coaching clients often consider starting their own business. We overachievers like the idea of creating our own success and knowing that our hard work directly translates to our own bottom-line.

Recently I've been able to combine my coaching expertise, business background (in consulting and strategic planning), and my personal experience as a small business owner to offer small business coaching as part of my services. Starting a business can be daunting so I'm happy to provide some guidance and help clients answer the question "How do I get started?"

For those of you who are considering starting a business, check out these FREE sample business plans from to help get the ball rolling. A good template can save you a lot of work, especially for something formulaic like a business plan.

If you're interested in learning more about my small business coaching services, email me and let's figure out how I can help!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Srikumar Rao @ Google

Srikumar's book Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life has been one of my favorites for a few years now and I frequently recommend it to friends and clients. It is definitely worth picking up and was actually one of the books that inspired me to become a coach!

It's a bit long for those of us who have ADD and are chronic multi-taskers (myself included), but you can plug in your headphones and listen to it in the background as you're checking email. Enjoy!

Monday, June 2, 2008

HBS and Career Vision

Looks like Harvard Business School asks a lot of the same questions I do as a coach. From the HBS website:
  1. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)
  2. What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)
  3. Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):
    • What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?
    • Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
    • What area of the world are you most curious about and why?
    • What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
I especially like the last question and have helped a number of clients create and refine their career vision.

Whether you're applying to grad school or looking for a new job, this vision is important - it helps the employer/admissions team better understand you, but more importantly, the introspection required to answer the question helps you think through what you're really looking for (and how this next step fits into your vision).

If you'd like help getting started with this career vision, I've already helped a number of clients do this through my career coaching services. It would take just a few conversations to distill your thoughts and finally put them down on paper (something that we always say we should do, but never do!).

It would be a great kick in the pants for your grad-school essays or your job search. Email me to get started and take the bull by the horns!