What I’ve Learned About Success After 12 Years in Startups

12 years ago, if someone would tell me that it would take working a part of several failed startups and getting laid off was a requirement in my journey to success, would you think I would be crazy enough to embark on the same path?

I would have told you that you’re out of your ever-loving mind if you even think I would invite the possibility of failure. Then again, I thought I knew everything at then. I’m happy I didn’t have that foresight.

It was in my moments of failure I grew and learned the most. In fact, knowing what I’ve been through, what my peers have been through and the intricacies of the freelance and knowledge economy, I know failure is a necessary experience to learn, grow and help others.

As I enter my youthful 30th year of life, I reflect on my accomplishments having built strategies on an executive level applying knowledge to projects involving heavy hitters like Uber, Coca-Cola, NASA, Forbes, Zappos — the list goes on. Had I chosen the complacent yet comfortable path of college education followed by a suitable internship, followed by a brick and mortar job, I don’t feel my capabilities and understanding of cross-cultural human engagement, as well as experience building organizations, would have expanded to the level it has today.

In my moments of failure, I realized that You and I are more than our traditional education, the capabilities we hold — we are the experiences and interactions we have with pain and joy in our professional and personal development. In some way or another, we were once that overambitious, and highly educated novice embarking on our journey to adulthood searching for our intended meaning of success.

In our early twenties, we think we have completed what we defined as the preparatory steps for adulthood, arming ourselves with a multitude of talents and interests while focusing on anything and everything we think we need to succeed. So were we now well-versed in the subject matter area studied as well as a myriad of other useless activities before the age of thirty? Who knows?

We do however feel confident in our positions in the marketplace. All this while having a mortgage in the form of student loan payments, we find that our premature experience lands a new career that seems to have made the hard work and effort to date pay off. Coupled with overly ambitious postgraduate egotism, we fall into a cycle of working to work, missing the point of life and what it means to work for a purpose.

We proudly view our certificate of achievement, grad school degree or whatever acknowledgment of merit have framed on the desk to remind us just how AWESOME we are when we conduct our 8:00 AM routine ego stroke. We are elevated and on an unstoppable high that allows for us to latch on to the false sense of success. This cycle continues for a couple of years until we work ourselves to death to prove something that is meaningless and growing exhausted and burning out.

For me, I don’t feel taking only 12 years is very long to discover what I didn’t want, but I know the journey to keeping what I know I want in this moment in time is just getting started. Realizing that the brick and mortar corporate structure wasn’t where I wanted to be in this time and place, I searched for something more. And continued to engage with startups at an increased rate.

Working in startups, you quickly are reminded that school has taught you nothing if you can’t repurpose your knowledge to apply it to your current environment. Take the credentials, the act of what you know out of everything and discard it until you are willing to learn and grow using the required pain, joy, and experience to propel your future forward. The market could change tomorrow; your user experience could be downgraded entirely by a new technology advancement and many other uncertainties.

Become comfortable with being uncomfortable and empower your curiosity when you don’t know it all. The ability to do so creates a future where one is willing to fail fast and retain that knowledge for future endeavors. At this moment, you realize that it’s not the goal of success, but it is the journey that makes it all worth it. Once you recognize this, you are ready to take on the world.