I am incredibly passionate about working in the cross-section of student affairs and social entrepreneurship. Over the course of my three years at UMass Boston (I was a transfer student), I founded and cultivated a chapter of the global nonprofit organization Enactus.
Enactus is a nonprofit centered in empowering communities through sustainable social entrepreneurship projects. Enactus organizations function on college campuses nationally and globally.
In addition to social entrepreneurship I am passionate about hands-on learning. After four incredibly triumphant (and chaotic) semesters with Enactus, I allowed less experienced members to begin to step up and take the reigns in our fifth semester in preparation for my impeding graduation.
However, I allowed our rapid past successes to overshadow my better judgment. Goals went unmet, projects fell apart, and deadlines came and went with no measurable progress. I was pushing members to be independent, but not providing adequate support.
When it came time for the annual conference for Enactus teams around the nation to present on their work, we fell flat on our face. It felt like my heart was being torn out. We had literally put blood, sweat, and tears into our work. But, we “failed” to meet the necessary checkpoints for our projects.
I knew my team felt even worse than I did. There were tears, and immediate looks of disbelief. We sat in a conference hall filled with 2,000+ attendees as the news was delivered that we had not succeeded in our goal to reclaim our title as a top 40 ranked organization in the network.
I knew that my teammates would be looking at me to mirror my behavior. Full discloser, I am an extrovert and I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I had to strategically figure out how to use every aspect of this experience as a learning opportunity. I succeeded in doing so and conducted the most personal and emotionally impacting debrief of my life.
As changemakers, we are constantly pushing ourselves to succeed. Why would we strive for anything else? But to some, it does not matter how we get there, what we learn in the process, or what we are forced over come; we just need to meet an end goal. After all, we are socially programmed to have adverse feelings towards mistakes, and towards failures. The very words themselves are respectfully defined as “not correct” and “lacking success”.
However, is something that is not correct, always wrong? If we lack success on our first try, is that to mean that success is no longer obtainable?
We often tell ourselves “I’ve got this!” or cheer others on “you‘re going to be great!” Only to awkwardly later skirt through the conversation in which you must offer advice and condolence when a mark is missed or a goal is not achieved.
What if we are not missing a mark, but rather just on a trajectory towards an unforeseen destination? What if we are just throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks?
With Enactus, I realized that while we missed our original goal, we succeeded in creating projects to empower underserved communities. While our new members struggled to stay afloat in more cumbersome roles, we were also preparing organizational leaders for coming years. As a team, identified where we needed to be stronger, and made the necessary improvements to prepare for the future. The award did not matter any more, the experience was what mattered.
Personally, I am a realist. I refuse to sugarcoat situations and I focus on the facts. It is not because I am vindictive or hard pressed to provide sympathy. It is because I believe that I grew up in a generation that was coddled into wasting time with white lies and attempts at saving face, rather than practicing some honest constructive criticism.
I am a Millennial, part of the generation that was given trophies for participation, and awarded for coming in last place. Some argue that this cheapens our understanding of failures, but I disagree. I think if anything, our failures are made more salient than ever before. We are given consolation prizes and smaller trophies, physical, tangible representations to show that we are less than others.
I believe that in life there are no mistakes, rather opportunities for growth and development. Nelson Mandela once said, “Our greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but rising every time we fall”. We fall so we can get up. Get up and learn, get up and grow, get up and recover with a fire in our bellies to be better than our last attempt.
With Enactus, we dissected each part of our year and learned from areas that we strayed from our path of success. We walked away with a smaller trophy as a reminder that we must work harder. This was a humility check, like most failures, that provided a substantial learning opportunity.
Yes, I like facts and the fact of the matter is we all fail. Not only do we fail, but we will all be told at least once that our ideas are outlandish, or illogical. I challenge you to take naysayers beliefs and use that to fuel you. Go big or go home. FAIL. Because, it is not how many failures we encounter on our journey but rather what we choose to do with our failures that defines our success.