in Lessons Learned

Life in a Nutshell

When Life throws you curve balls.

**Some people think that I am bonkers**. At 35 years of age, it just isn’t normal to have no career. But here I am.

It hasn’t always been this way. I have vivid memories of being a very smart student at school. I was always good at mathematics and tended to top the class on most occassions. I graduated high school with A’s and my heart set on being a doctor. The first year or so of university was difficult. After completing a bachelors degree in Physiology I applied for Med school.

Like any university, the competition for Medicine is tough. But I hadn’t the worry in the world. I knew I had the grades to put me in the top 5% of applicants. I did the extraciricular activities: charity work, leadership roles, work experience. All I had to pass was an interview from a panel of doctors and lecturers. To me that seemed to be a cinch. I was good at talking, and good at giving people the answers they wanted.
I still have images of my dad telling me to prepare for the interview. But I didn’t.

I failed that interview miserably.

It was a shock. It was my first big failure in life. And the consequences were far reaching. I didn’t have a plan B (another thing my dad advised me to think about). I didn’t really know what to do. I went back to university. I studied business, pharmacy, quantity surveying and recently science (again) and software engineering. I worked at the bank, at a consulting company, I managed restaurants and cafes, and now I’m a barista. I did a bit of travelling around Europe (22 countries) and I did a lot of thinking, analysing and reflecting.

It was over this reflective period of my life (4 years, I think), that I gradually came to terms with the idea that sometimes we have to choose. For example; You can choose to be a jet fighter pilot, but you cannot choose to be an astronaut at the same time. It’s just too time consuming and difficult. Not to mention it’s absurdly unrealistic!

My passions seemed to be in health, education and helping people. I wanted to make stuff that made life easier and healthier for people. So I chose to start a company. But I also chose to study software engineering as a backup.

Every year I wrote up my Goals. Basically, the same ones.

  1. Start a company
  2. Get high distinctions at university

At first it was perfect. Study, work and pursuing my dream of a startup seemed to go together well. I had bought into this idealised world of Silicon Valley. The Stanford University computer science student who starts the next Google in their spare time.

But as the study workload increased I started to run out of time. So the startup got pushed to the side line, assigned to the holiday period.

I went through the process of writing up the same Goals for 4 years. Each time, convincing myself that this year would be different.

It wasn’t. It was always the same. No startup!

It was at this point when I decided to step aside and analyse my life and lifestyle as an impartial observer. I asked the big questions. Actually, I just asked ‘why’? Many, many, many times. I wanted to get to the route of the problem.

Here are the lessons I learned:

  1. Starting a company is hard. Really hard. It takes commitment, time and Grit. (Ted Talk on GRIT by Angela Lee Duckworth). So I quit University.
  2. There is more to Goal setting than a few words on paper (but its a good start). There are whole theories based on it. So I learnt about using behaviour specific goals.
  3. I’m smart, but not as smart as a student from Stanford or Harvard University. I lack many of the skill sets or character traits that come stock standard for a student there. So I’m going to learn them (add links to relevant posts), quickly.
  4. Looking back at your failures and reflecting in an objective manner is – an important – a vital tool. It’s ok to feel bad as long as you pick yourself back up. Writing them out on paper as ‘lessons learned’ usually helps me feel better.

I started by devising a set of guiding principles (add link to my post) or virtues to follow. They help guide most of the tough decisions I have to make.

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  1. Hang in there and keep your goals set high Ash. If you fall short then you’ll at least be closer to your high-set goals than if you would if you had set your goals too low.
    Piece of advice from my own dad ^_^

    • Thanks Alan.

      It’s inspiring when older people give advice. If you or I said the same words it probably wouldn’t have much impact. But coming from someone wise & experienced it gives the whole phrase more meaning and depth. Love it.

      Can’t wait to get old and wise!