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Sitting in Terminal C at New York’s LaGuardia Airport six months ago, I opened an email from a policy institute where I had applied for a fellowship. For months leading up to the day I submitted my application, friends who were already fellows in the program told me there was no question I would be accepted. Combining my military and work experience, I, too, felt as though I were a great fit.
I helped to start and run an organization that today has grown to nearly 1,000 campuses, played a role in the passage of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, and has directly and indirectly impacted the lives of over one million veterans. I thought my application stood on firm ground.
But as I read the second paragraph of the note, I learned my friends and I were wrong.
“We regret that we cannot offer you a place in the 2014 class.”
I was in shock, and my first thought was to send an email or to make a phone call to see if the rejection was a mistake. The second reaction was anger, as I thought the time I spent on the essays and application was for nothing. Then I started running through all the potential areas where I could have gone wrong.
Was it because I did not submit the optional letter of recommendation, even though a close friend sat on the board? Was it because during the interview I appeared too calm and may have given the impression I didn’t care? Was it a wrong response in one of my essays?
It very well may have been one of those reasons, all of them, or something else. But as I sat there I suddenly realized I did not walk on water. For too many years, I had succeeded in most everything I aspired toward. I looked at my last 10 years, searching for an example of failure, and until that moment, I was at a loss. A month later I had another failure, this one in my personal life. From these combined experiences I started to evolve and better understand where I exist in a world that is much bigger than me.
Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra summed it up best in his remarks to the school’s graduating class of 2012. “Humility and confidence are not enemies,” he said. “They are best friends. If you have more of one than the other, you are in trouble.”
Clearly I was in trouble. I was in trouble because I was also considering applying to NYU Stern, Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, and others. At that point, my approach to these applications was similar to that of the fellowship application: I thought it was a sure thing.
Looking back, the application numbers behind the top MBA programs made my perspective even more troublesome. Consider that Harvard accepted only 915 of the 9,300 candidates who applied. The average grade point average at Columbia was 3.5, and the average Graduate Management Admission Test score for NYU Stern last year was in the 94th percentile -- and I fall short in both categories. The perspective I held four months ago was woefully diluted and thankfully I am a different person today as a result.
Through those experiences, I re-evaluated myself and realized something -- failure is the greatest educator. Through failure comes humility, and humility allows understanding and perspective. Without failure, you cannot fully understand yourself nor develop as a person. This experience provided a brutal dose of humility. As a result, my approach to business school applications is quite different today, as is my approach to the world and my openness to learning from others.
Delivering Dartmouth’s commencement in 2011, comedian Conan O’Brien said it best:
“Through the good and especially the bad, the person you are now is someone you could never have conjured in the fall of 2007,” he said. “Your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.”
There are those who have not yet experienced failure, and still believe they cannot fail or falter, but it will happen. If you are not prepared, the effects can be damaging. But with an open mind, and through a search for understanding, you can evolve, develop and become a more grounded person.
My life is drastically different than it was several years ago, much like my view of the world has changed immensely since opening that email at LaGuardia just four months ago, and I’d like to think I owe it to my perceived failure, which has become a catalyst for my reinvention.
Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.
And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
Former President George W. Bush is calling for an end to the partial government shutdown, which is about to hit the one-month mark and is currently the longest shutdown in US history.
In an appeal made on Instagram, the 43rd president called on "leaders on both sides to put politics aside, come together, and end this shutdown." The caption was posted with an image of him and former First Lady Laura Bush giving pizza to their Secret Service detail.
A special operations Marine is due in court on March 7 after being arrested last year for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Task & Purpose has learned.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested and charged with assault inflicting serious injury on July 29, 2018, according to Jennifer Dandron, a spokeswoman for police in Wilmington, North Carolina. Evans is currently assigned as a Critical Skills Operator with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, according to the Marine Corps Personnel Locator.
Following Trump's inauguration, some supporters of ground combat integration assumed he would quickly move to reinstate a ban on women in jobs like the infantry. When this did not happen, advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief, and hundreds of qualified women charted a course in history by entering the newly opened occupational fields.
So earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal published an editorial against women in ground combat by conservative political commentator Heather Mac Donald, the inclination of many ground combat integration supporters was to dismiss it outright. But given Trump's proclivity to make knee jerk policy decisions in response to falling approval ratings and the court's tradition of deference to the military when it comes to policies affecting good order and discipline, it would be unwise to assume the 2016 lifting of the ban on women in ground combat is a done deal.