“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
The beginning of one’s career is often filled with new challenges and barriers to cross. As an undergraduate entrepreneurship student, one of those challenges was locating a summer internship—a requirement for graduation. The first problem I encountered was not knowing what kind of internship I even wanted in the first place.
Not knowing led me to take a “apply for anything that seems interesting” approach in my internship hunt. With my entrepreneurial mindset, business-related internships seemed promising. I applied to sales positions, marketing positions, catch-all roles at start-ups, promoter roles, logistics, you name it. Although none of these positions really spoke to me, I was hoping to learn something and hopefully figure out what I wanted to do with my life along the way. Of course, figuring out what you want to do with your life can be a tall order to fill.
My grades were high; I regularly participated in academic and recreational extracurricular activities, volunteered, and ran my own clothing business. I crafted a resume, wrote cover letters, went to mock interviews, and applied to internships feverishly. Despite my best efforts, I only landed one interview—right before the deadline. If I didn’t take that interview, I might not have graduated on time.
Although I wanted to learn about sales and the art of selling, I was nervous about the level of difficulty involved. Regardless, I pulled up my britches and accepted an offer with a small marketing and sales firm that acts as a third party to sell Direct TV to consumers in various Walmarts around the Central Florida area. This meant waking up early to be at the office by 9 am, leaving the office around noon, driving anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half away to a Walmart, selling, and standing until 8 pm when the shift ended. The days were long, but I was determined to ace this internship.
Sales. Wore. Me. DOWN… I struggled with it every day, and it was showing. I almost never hit my sales goals, and dealing with rude people (although it comes with the territory) was becoming increasingly difficult. I was dragging my team down. The only time I had ever failed so badly was when I got a 55/100 on my first college algebra exam. To remedy that failure, I attended office hours and built a relationship with my professor to receive the help that I so desperately needed. I figured that if I could bounce back from that failure and finish the class with a B, all I needed to do in this situation was find a similar way to bounce back.
After much deliberation, I decided it was time to advocate for myself and speak to the head honcho—the company’s CEO. As I began to speak, I felt tears of frustration welling up inside of me. I expressed to him that I was aware of my poor performance but was willing to do what it took to prove my worth for the business in another area. He ended up being happy that I came to him first as he had planned to pull me aside later that day to discuss my underperformance. The office was small, and there were only two other people who were not sales consultants—the office administrator and her assistant. Although the small team of two had a handle on everything, the CEO decided to have pity on me. I was put in charge of the annual fundraiser and joined the office administrator to assist with recruitment.
It was my job to file through the resumes of applicants and potential applicants in the morning and send emails to the most qualified candidates. After only landing one interview with my resume, I was intrigued by all the resumes I saw and was extremely curious about what made a resume good or bad. It’s pretty nerdy, but filing through candidate resumes became my favorite part of the day. I saw so many designs, learned various ways to word phrases, and discovered what could differentiate a strong resume from a weak resume. Having this knowledge felt empowering and got me excited about where my career journey would take me next. If I knew my resume was strong and could land interviews, I knew I could ace those interviews and land a great job somewhere.
What started as one of the hardest things I have ever done turned into one of the best things that have ever happened to me. Over the next year, I practiced writing resumes for my family and friends before establishing my own business in 2020. I transformed my failure into something successful and found a career that I love. Now, as a professional resume writer with the opportunity to help job seekers daily, I look back on the internship with fondness. Although sales are REALLY not my thing, I would not have discovered my true passion without this eye-opening and challenging experience.
There will inevitably be times that really try your spirit and make you question your current route. Isn’t that what life is about? Journeys are filled with potholes, bumpy roads, and unexpected situations that, by the end of the day, leave you needing a tow truck and a therapy session. How can we learn to deal with problems and failures in a positive way? The answer to that lies in your perception of the situation.
In my undergraduate studies, there was a general course that everyone pursuing engineering had to take. It was the dreaded Mechanics and Statics class, where you were lucky to barely pass. It was a rite of passage for many into the upper-level courses but a barrier to most who couldn’t earn the C and had to change their majors out of engineering. I knew this course was coming, and I was scared out of my mind.
I decided to do what anyone would do in my situation…studied my butt off for the first exam. I remember walking into the testing room feeling confident of my mastery of the material. The tests were passed out, and as I flipped over that vivid baby blue sheet of paper, my mind went blank. What were these questions even asking? It was as if I hadn’t seen any of this material that entire semester. Later that week, my heart sank as I saw a glaring 33/100 glaring back at me from the grade book. I don’t even think there was a letter grade to represent how poorly I had done. Tears streamed down my face as I questioned if I should just drop the class now to avoid future embarrassment…I did everything I could; what more was expected from me?
Time to reroute. With my tail between my legs, I called my dad to tell him what happened. I was bracing for the “Have you considered a different career option” talk, but instead, a whole new conversation arose. One that was focused on perceiving the situation as a learning experience in order to understand what I can do differently the next time around. He had me reflect on how I was attacking the problems and ways to optimize my thinking methods to do better on the next exam. He emphasized perceiving this terrible grade not as a failure but as information on what not to do and how to do better in the future. I decided to give his advice a shot.
In preparing for the second exam, I completely shifted my learning schemas. Instead of just doing problems to get an answer, I focused on understanding the problem-solving process so that I could apply this schema to all types of statics problems, no matter how confusing or foreign they seemed. I went to office hours every single day, even if I didn’t have specific questions, because I wanted to observe how the TA’s worked through example problems and thought about tying the situations to the bigger picture of engineering in the real world. What did they first think about when given a problem to solve?
It was time to take the second exam. I was scared out of my mind, not because I hadn’t prepared enough, but I had tried a new method that was so different from what I usually did. I had no perspective on whether this new method of critical thinking schemas would actually be effective… I basically had a 50/50 chance of soaring or falling flat on my face. I was terrified. Once the exam papers had been passed out, I flipped the test over and took a deep breath. Initially, it looked foreign and overwhelming, just as the first exam had. However, I had a known scaffold on how to approach the problems and just jumped in.
I earned a 99/100 on that exam, and on the last exam, a 100/100. This new method of thinking and problem solving had given me a new power and ability to filter through information and really solve problems. At the end of the semester, I was asked to become a teaching assistant for the class. I felt proud to have the opportunity to help students that were once struggling like me. They had been focusing on finding correct answers instead of truly understanding the problem and how to go about solving it.
There is no “one size fits all” way to approach problems along your journey, and everyone experiences failure in one way or another. Some people may not like to talk about their “failures,” but we believe it is essential to normalize the road bumps and uncertainties that we have all experienced at one point or another. Failure allows you to understand when it is time to pivot into a new direction, and most importantly, it provides the opportunity to learn and grow. Put in the effort and give it your all. You never know where it will take you.