Tag: failure

Ben Kosowsky, BSBA ’20, wrote this post on behalf of Bear Studios LLC.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” — Soren Kierkegaard

Take a moment and think about yourself five years ago—or even just one year ago. Consider the day-to-day issues you were facing and your near-term worries. I would bet that you cannot remember most of your troubles. And even if you can, they are likely not the same as those that bother you today.

Contemplate your attitudes and outlooks and reflect upon how different they are from your current perspective. If you are anything like me, it borders on absurd to think that you were the same person who had those thoughts and took those actions just a short while back.

Now, recognize that much of what you are concerned with and think about today will likely seem petty in five years’ time—or even just one year from now. The appreciation that you always have grown and always will grow is certainly important, yet it is only the first step in orienting your mindset toward personal growth.

Before I continue, let me introduce myself. My name is Ben Kosowsky and I am a sophomore at Olin Business School triple majoring in finance, economics and strategy, and philosophy. I consider myself to be a growth-oriented person. What follows are some of the strategies I use to maximize my personal growth.


Self-reflection can and should be different for everyone. For me, the most successful strategies have been documentation, meditation, and rebuke.

I became inspired to keep a journal after an interview with a “brother” in Delta Sigma Pi during my pledging process freshman year. Since then, I have spent at least 15 minutes every night reflecting on my day, focusing on what and how I can improve.

At first, meditating even for five minutes was very hard for me, but I have now reached the point where I can meditate for 30 minutes at a time. This contemplative time has trained me to let go of unproductive thoughts, focusing intensely instead on critical matters.

Finally, the strategy of rebuke, derived from the Jewish concept of Tochacha, involves inviting your closest friends to criticize you and explain how you can improve. This requires a tremendous amount of trust, but hearing your flaws from those closest to you can open your eyes to issues that documentation or mediation won’t bring to light.


Throughout your life, the vast majority of your thoughts and beliefs have changed, and they will continue to change. To embrace the inevitability of this change, you should actively seek out new ideas by exposing yourself to as many different perspectives as possible.

Everyone has things you can learn from them and taking the time to listen will help you truly understand their vantage point. Realize that you already know any potential things you will say, so you can maximize learning and growth by listening to what others have to say, and then determining what is valuable.


While it is critical to be open to new ideas, it is equally as important to not care too much about other’s perceptions of you. Reflect on how much you cared about what the cool kids in middle school thought about you, and how little you care about their perceptions now.

On a more macro level, realize that societal definitions of success are sometimes just as arbitrary as “coolness” was in middle school. Additionally, notice how large of a role randomness plays in life and allow yourself to take some of your accomplishments and failures with a grain of salt.

This should help you realize how important it is to live your life only according to your own value system and not according to anyone else’s.


One thing most people try to avoid is the feeling of being uncomfortable. My objective throughout college has been to challenge myself with a set of goals that push me beyond my comfortable limits, while still giving myself a chance at success.

In my first semester at WashU, I challenged myself to join as many on-campus organizations and to take on as much leadership and responsibility as possible. In my second semester at WashU, I challenged myself to think outside the box in terms of my career path and began to pursue opportunities in growth equity, instead of a more traditional path.

Last semester, I challenged myself to eat meals one-on-one with as many people as possible in order to deepen my relationships. My challenges this semester have been to meditate, to work-out, and to read at least one hour of philosophy every day.

None of these tasks were (or are) easy for me, but the key to growth is pushing your limits by setting your mind to overcome what makes you uncomfortable.


Embracing failure is not about being content with losing or not caring about success; instead, it is realizing that every struggle is an opportunity for learning and growth. Everyone struggles through failures in life. Learning to deal with and bounce back from them is the true test of one’s character.

One way I think about struggle is through the lens of what I call Type 1 versus Type 2 situations. A Type 1 situation is one you enjoy during the moment and will remember as a positive experience. A Type 2 situation is one where you are struggling during the moment and will likely remember it as a negative experience.

If you train yourself to recognize the potential growth opportunities of a Type 2 situations while in the midst of one, you can focus on how you can learn and grow from the struggle instead of dwelling on the struggle itself.

These strategies should be continuous processes that push you and keep you from becoming complacent. If you make a “wrong” decision, don’t dwell on your mistake (the “right” answer always seems obvious in 20/20 hindsight), but focus on how you can learn and grow from it.

If you consistently learn about yourself through self-reflection, open yourself to new ideas, take other people’s perceptions less seriously, push your comfortable limits with challenging goals, and learn to embrace failure, then you are well on your way to achieving personal growth.

Guest blogger: Ben Kosowsky, BSBA ’20, is a triple major in finance, economics and strategy, and philosophy; he is a strategy fellow at Bear Studios LLC.

Failing… sucks. Whether it’s failing a class, failing to meet new people on your first-year floor, or failing to connect with a professor, feeling inadequate is one of the worst feelings in the world.

Fear of failure makes it that much harder to leave your comfort zone. It’s uncomfortable to start from square one and join a new club or friend group, where everyone else seems to be one step ahead of you. It’s hard when people throw around complex terms or concepts in casual conversation, and they’re all going over your head. One bad experience can set you back for months, afraid to take another chance.

But it’s only by putting yourself out there, asking stupid questions, and failing that we can stumble upon some great opportunities. For me, the great opportunity was Bear Studios.

When I first came to WashU, I tried to branch out and suffered (more than) a couple of setbacks.

I faked my way through the spring rush process for one of WashU’s business fraternities, only to be cut in the final round. My pride was hurt. I was ready to throw in the towel on business and move forward with my Arts & Sciences education, shutting the door on a huge realm of possibilities.

But then somebody introduced me to Peter Delaney (BA’18, Global Health), the co-founder and a director of Bear Studios. And Peter welcomed my stupid questions; he met me halfway. Peter and the team didn’t throw around esoteric terms—they explained them.

This is my advice—my plea, really—for student groups: Meet your new members where they’re at. Don’t call out the first-year student huddled in the corner of your general body meeting. Walk up to them after the meeting and engage in a meaningful way. Welcome the stupid questions, allow new members to grow, and foster that sense of curiosity.

I have been with Bear Studios since March. I’m still asking stupid questions, and I’m still learning on the job. But I think that’s the point: I am learning.

My advice for the Class of 2021 would be to fail. Branch out. You’re an engineering student? Take a history class. IAS (International and Area Studies) major like me? Look into some of the Olin student groups. Take some Sam Fox classes. Get outside your comfort zone and fail a little.

It’s not so bad after all.

Guest Blogger: Jacob Finke, BA’20 is majoring in International and Area Studies, concentrating in international affairs; he is a strategy fellow at Bear Studios LLC.



If you have recently made it into a business school, congratulations…and brace yourself. You have now entered the zone of relentless rejections (unless you take the first job offer you receive, in which case have you really MBA-ed?). To each her own, but for those like me, always eager to see what more is out there, this blog is for you.

Your background might not be the right fit, your passport might not be the right color, your scores might not be the right number— what it all boils down to is receiving that letter: ‘Thank you for your interest, unfortunately…..’.

How do you keep your head high and spirits up when the rejections begin to fall denser than snow in St Louis?

After a year of having my pride chopped up by the nth company, I have some thoughts to share. Here goes four ways to get back up after getting knocked down:

Throw a pity party—literally

My friends and I started hosting a ‘pity party’ for whoever received a rejection, which has translated into a lot of partying. The rules are such: the rejected is special for that night – your drinks are fetched for you, food is cooked for you, and you can whine without restriction. Nonetheless, the parties do not see a lot of whining. There is something about empathy that cheers you up faster and helps you go further. There have been times when, after a moment of sadness due to rejection, I was excited about the pity party to come that night. Pity parties made rejection special!

Mourn your loss

However, there are those opportunities which you really, really wanted—and for those, a pity party is just not enough. For those ultra-special rejections, you need to mourn. Set aside your time to mourn: Give yourself two hours, five hours, one night, one day—whatever seems adequate—to be depressed. Binge watch Netflix, sleep for 12 hours, miss a class—do what you need to do to feel the loss. Then, get up and get going again—the next opportunity is waiting for your best effort!

Be grateful for the experience

Its counterintuitive, I know. What I learned, however, is that every rejection made me better. Whether I was rejected before an interview or after (or the worst—after 5 interviews!) every attempt was an experience that taught me ways to improve for the next time. Look at it as a learning opportunity, one that is preparing you to land and succeed in your future job. Always ask for feedback to see where you fell short, then put them in your notebook or throw them out the window—but ask nonetheless. Finally, say thank you to your God or your fate for the experience.

Remember, it’s a numbers game

Shoot for your target, learn from the missed shots, adjust your aim, repeat. Persistence and optimism will pay off. I have seen it happen again and again, to me and to those around me. Also, this is the best time to build your network—and the bigger your network, the broader your lifetime opportunities. So aim for that high number and begin the game.

You have written-off two years of your life to gain new, different, and better experiences in an MBA program—why not make the most of it? The daily rhythm of work life will resume at the end of these two years. Take the chances now, invest in risky propositions, fail fabulously, and fail with finesse.

Note from the editor: It is natural to struggle with the stress of school, work, and life. We want to bring to your attention several campus resources for students:

  • Counseling
  • “Let’s Talk,” a program that provides students with easy access to free, brief, confidential consultations with counselors from Mental Health Services (MHS).
  • Stress-Less @ WashU offers 20-minute, one-on-one consultations designed to help you manage stress intentionally and identify the ways you successfully manage stress as well as your barriers to stress management.
  • Stressbusters is a health initiative that helps WashU students, staff, and faculty rediscover relaxation. 

For more campus resources, be sure to visit the Student Health Services website

Poets & Quants asked top business school deans, What was your favorite mistake in your career?  The question solicited thoughtful answers from the deans of Wharton, Kellogg, Emory, and others including Olin’s Mark Taylor.

“I can think of instances, especially early in my career, where I was too emotionally attached to a pet project to admit that it was not performing according to expectations and that I needed to cut bait. The time, effort and imagination that goes in into launching something can easily cloud one’s judgment into thinking, “It can’t possibly fail and turnaround and success are just around the corner.” After this happened a couple of times – and I saw that prevarication only made matters worse – I realised that having projects fail is a normal element of business. In fact, if some projects don’t occasionally fail, it means that, as a leader, you are not taking enough controlled risks. The skill is in having more projects succeed than fail.”
– Mark P. Taylor

Link to Poets & Quants article.


Disclaimer: I probably use a derivative of the word failure 25–30 times throughout the post, noted.

Failure is terrible.

It’s true, failing flat out sucks. There are few things more heart wrenching in life than seeing yourself or your company flop. All of that time and money, out on the curb and gone to waste. But who wants to read about that? That would make for one boring story, because let’s face it: Everyone fails every once in a while. Luckily, that is not the complete reality.

Failure is not the worst thing that can happen to you.

But let’s get things straight. I do not see a need to parade around and celebrate my failures. But I do believe that learning from failure is crucial because failure is inevitable. Though, what could be worse than failing?

In the American school system, a 57% is generally an “F” and a 75% is the average, a “C”.

A “C” allows you to pass the class while F prohibits you from moving on. One, demoralizing; the other, sufficient. Though, I argue that failing is more beneficial than scoring in the average.

Yes, failure>mediocrity.

The reality of life is that it is impossible to always finish at the top. There will be times where you lie to the left of the 99th percentile. But how bad is bad, and what do we consider to be a failure?

Failure, at least how we define it in school, has always meant under 60%. Failing in middle school meant having to stay 15 minutes past the bell to relaunch my baking soda & vinegar bottle rocket. In high school, it meant missing the homecoming weekend to redo my physics lab. And now, in college, it meant missing the party of the semester to retype my Writing 1 essay.

Sad? Yes. Agonizing? No.

Throughout my 15 years of formal schooling I never had an opportunity to accept and admit defeat in the classroom. I place that blame, for the most part, on the structure of schooling. The nature of schooling breeds mediocrity. Students are often incentivized to be average: on assignments, projects, and tests. In middle school, teachers reward students who have just passing grades with shiny stickers. In high school, the principal honors students who maintained above a 2.0 GPA with a noble seat at graduation. And in college, students can earn credits, as long as they maintain test averages above failure.

This process fosters average people who get average grades. Students work hard to simply fall above the arbitrary pass-fail line. People rather pass (barely) than admit defeat. Passing allows you to get credits, avoid embarrassment, and graduate. What does failing get you? So then I ask the question: 65% & shiny sticker or 59% & F? Choose the latter.

Learning from your mistakes and persevering is essential to success.

Learning from your mistakes and persevering is essential to success. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I want to be an outlier. Outliers learn the most and progress the fastest.

Recognizing failure is a vital part of an individual’s journey towards self-actualization and development. Failing is essential to growth. “You’ll struggle to find a great invention that wasn’t preceded by a series of failures.” Of course, not all failures are created equal. People fail for all sorts of reasons: laziness, priorities, effort, incomprehension, and critical errors. You may not learn as much from errors rooted in a lack of internal motivation. Rather, it is best to fail at things you can not prevent without having experience. These are the biggest life lessons.

So why then do we stop people from failing early on? Why do we hold them right above the water until we release them into the real world?

Mediocrity is inbred in our society. The shiny stickers and external support provide the perfect amount of comfort for an average civilization. But we need to be moving in one direction or the other. It is impossible to tread forever. I argue that the ordinary school system does a poor job of teaching students the proper way to fail, as well as how to improve.

We all should have failed more in school. The time and setting are ideal, the consequences were minimal, and the only thing in jeopardy was our social standing for the day. If only I understood this sooner.

Learning from failure in business

Outside of the classroom, failure has really real consequences. Stickers are replaced with pink slips as people lose their livelihoods due to shortcomings.

In the business world, a 75 percent (average) means absolutely nothing. “Earning” a 75 percent from your work will cost you 100 percent of the job.

That simple concept took me two years and potentially thousands of dollars to truly digest. The only way to understand this is to experience it. But as you enter the real business world, these experiences become more expensive, draining crucial time and money.

Fail as early and as quickly as possible.  This applies to both in the formal learning environment as well as in business development.

I define this as a fail loop: the period between starting something and reaching inevitable failure.

Those who are able to tighten this loop the fastest are at an extreme advantage. Tighter fail loops make for faster learning. Developing this is not easy, but those who do it well are best off.

So what did I take from this concept?

I will repeat what I said early on: failing is never your goal. But, as I hope I have demonstrated, it is better to fail outright and learn from your failure than to get stuck in between two arbitrary guidelines, while never admitting defeat.

And so, I present my failures…And I think I learned a thing or two from doing this. Hope this was not a complete failure, or maybe I don’t.

Try and make your own, you may learn something as well.

This post was originally featured on Medium and was republished with permission from the author.