How an MBA Helped Me Redefine Failure and Success

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GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
How an MBA Helped Me Redefine Failure and Success
Many times in my life, I have been challenged. Many times, I have made mistakes. Many times, I have experienced failure. Now, reflecting on my first year in business school, I realize that many opportunities were placed in front of me so that I could fail, so that I could learn how to fail effectively.

All of us came to business school as leaders — as previously successful students, high performing employees and/or managers, and as driven individuals with interesting and intense backgrounds. But I noticed a shift happening once I entered business school. I quickly realized that everyone around me is equally motivated, equally smart, and has done things that are mind boggling. All of a sudden, we all moved from being at the top to taking our first statistics quiz and placing two standard deviations below the mean.

At the time, it seemed like this grade alone would prevent me from getting a good stats grade, would prevent me from getting good job interviews, and possibly keep me from getting my dream job. In hindsight, I’ve realized that Stats class was just another color in the crayon box, and one low grade isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t mean that I’m a complete failure. I’ve continued to grow and find those new colors of crayon that have made me into a stronger person, friend, and leader at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Until now, I never realized how well the interactions I’ve had over the past two years prepared me to face the disappointments that may come my way. I never thought that failure — repeated failure — would be a part of my MBA journey. I expected to come into business school and excel.

I had high expectations for myself; I was used to being a perfectionist. Of course, I knew there’d be some things to learn, and I wanted to learn, but overall, I expected to successfully overcome every challenge. But so far, my MBA experiences haven’t been that easy, and I haven’t been as glowingly “successful” as I thought I would be.

I experienced failures, or at least, what seemed like failures at the time — like not acing my first stats quiz. And it was tough, it was really tough to accept failure, especially since I had become so used to accomplishing my goals. There were times when I questioned myself and my abilities, and I wondered whether I could make it through the MBA program.

A New Concept of Success

Now, with only a few weeks of my MBA program remaining, I am realizing that all of my experiences, and especially the failures, have led me to believe that nothing is impossible. The failures provided me with invaluable opportunities to test my strength, to learn, and to grow.

The failures also broadened my idea of “success.” For example, success is no longer about acing every quiz; instead, it is about really learning, understanding, and applying the concepts taught in class. Success is helping my fellow classmates through their troubles. Success is growing my values as an ethical leader.

I know this “learn from your failure” attitude may sound like a self-help platitude, but I really believe it, and I learned the hard way. Along my journey, I also learned that I was not alone. At first, you think that you are.

Reminiscing about my undergraduate days in my organic chemistry course, I had been asked to create aspirin. At about the halfway point of the experiment, I waited for the reaction to progress — for the synthesis to occur — but quickly realized that I had not allowed my vial to sit in the ice bath for long enough, and my reaction foamed over.

I started the experiment again and got aspirin crystals, but then when checking for impurities found that my aspirin still had a lot of salicylic acid left in it. I was failing at this experiment multiple times. Those failures showed me the mistakes I had been making and allowed me another opportunity to do the experiment over — this time more successfully and efficiently.

In time, I created aspirin that got me a 98 percent, and I felt it was pure enough to take to help with the migraine I had created for myself in the process. I have faced experiences like this at Fuqua as well — leading to me overcoming my biggest fear since childhood and allowing me to proudly say that I have made a great accomplishment.

It was in the first year that my management communications professor transformed my presentation skills and taught me how to effectively express my thoughts. I truly feared public speaking and wouldn’t speak up in groups larger than five people. The professor gave me tools to help overcome my fear, and I began using tools, such as index cards, and writing down speeches to practice a 100 times.

It was also my Integrative Leadership Experience team that helped me grow from a quiet woman who did not participate in team discussions into someone who was able to speak proudly and confidently about my knowledge of the healthcare industry in front of a crowd of judges and spectators for a case competition.

I also became a woman who could voice opposition when I saw something going wrong in public and a woman who is now able to lead and mentor first-year students who are facing some of their biggest fears and challenges. Whether in class or at a friend’s wedding, I can effectively give a speech impromptu, or I can even stand up in front of a large audience during a case competition and answer difficult questions (although I may be sweating up a storm).

I was able to overcome my inability to speak up, and though there were very uncomfortable moments and some failures along the way, I ultimately succeeded and was transformed, with help from the Fuqua community.

And more than just my classmates and professors, it is the global environment of the school that inspires me to move on and force my growth. As I now plan to travel the world (whether to visit Fuqua family or work abroad), I have realized that many students came only knowing the words out of the English dictionary but not understanding idioms and slang terms.

It has been their curiosity and dedication to understand the English language that showed me nothing is impossible. During my study exchange program in South America, I was able to get lost on the roads, learn Spanish through the locals, and have moments (multiple) in which I was terrified. This experience has led to stronger memories, a greater sense of accomplishment, and an understanding of the importance of introspection. It has lead me to better understand myself — how I deal with conflict, how I act under pressure, and how I am able to overcome any difficulties that I may face. It continues to better prepare me for the consulting world, where I will face conflict with my clients, my superiors, and my teammates. It has allowed me to thicken my skin and to believe in myself. Failure is all about the effort you put in. The more effort exerted to overcome that mistake, the more likely success will follow.

I am realizing that business school is about more than just learning statistical analysis. Business school should take you out of your comfort zone in order to make you stretch and grow. And it may be uncomfortable at times, but most transformational journeys are.

Business school prepares you for the rigors and realities of the working world, where you will face the same industry challenges day to day, encounter bureaucracy at its height, and of course, make some decision that causes a project to be unsuccessful.

But through all this, there is one thing that does not change. It is the people that you surround yourself with, the mentors that you follow, and the leader you aspire to be. Although we may fail at times, it is important to remember that failure is a natural part of life — no one is perfect.

Through failure, keep your head held up high and be courageous enough to take a risk and accept the fall if it comes.

Life’s path is made up of slabs: with each crack comes failure, with each slab comes a new experience. And when the road is finally built, it will lead to a home of great leadership, honest work, and genius business ideas.

Nisha Asher is a proud member of Fuqua’s Daytime MBA program. She will graduate in May and will enter the consulting world as a Senior Associate for PwC.

9 Ridiculously Simple Ways To Feel Happier Today
Happiness, the thinking often goes, is one of those things you either have or don’t have based on some unknown combination of life circumstances and natural disposition. You have a good day at work; someone does something that cracks you up and, voila. Bliss! Rough day at work, someone was a jerk and suddenly you’re miserable.

But positive psychologists have long believed that happiness is actually a quality that can be cultivated — a habit, or series of habits that can be practiced.

“There are lots of ways you can make yourself happier for the moment,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside. “[But] if you really want to change your happiness, it’s a life-long practice.”

Here are a few recommendations for small changes you can make to quickly (and easily!) change your mood:

1. Smile.
There’s a reason why people always talk about faking it ’til you make it: “When we smile, the muscles in our face send signals to our brain that help create — biologically — a better mood than when we frown,” said positive psychologist Barbara Holstein, EdD, who has a private practice in Long Branch, N.J. It might sound silly, but Holstein encourages people to sit for a minute and just grin. Or better yet, smile at someone. This helps establish immediate connection — another key to feeling upbeat.

2. Schedule something fun.
“Everyone needs something to look forward to,” Holstein said, and while dreaming about a fantasy trip, or a job you’d love to have 5 or 10 years down the road can provide a boost (as can having fun right-this-minute), there’s value in putting something tangible on your calendar within the coming weeks or months. The anticipation of having a nice experience coming up not-too-far-down-the road — like dinner at a new restaurant or a day trip to the country — breeds joy.

3. Express gratitude.
woman journal
Numerous studies have shown that gratitude is intimately connected with happiness, and there are lots of ways to find time for a few, focused moments of reflection daily. Give it some thought in the car, Lyubomirsky said, or on the subway on your way to work. To take it to the next level, write gratitude letters to a specific person (which you don’t even have to send), or try a gratitude journal — just don’t feel pressure to write in it every day. In her research, Lyubomirsky has found that writing just once a week may provide the most pronounced results, in part because it keeps it from feeling like a chore.

4. Be kind to someone.
Do something small and simple, like letting someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store, Lyubomirsky suggested, or call your 85-year-old great aunt who loves to hear from you, Holstein said. Acts of kindness increase well-being because they’re concrete. Another idea? Focus on one person — a boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent — and for one week really think about what you could do to make them happier. Then do it.

5. Walk. Better yet, walk outside.
woman walking outside
“When you exercise, chemicals are released in the brain that cause happiness,” explained Nancy Mramor, Ph.D., a psychologist with a private practice in Pittsburgh, Pa. “Fifteen to 20 minutes of walking and the chemicals start kicking in, and the more you do it, the stronger that reaction in the brain becomes.” For a double-whammy, take your walk in nature (or at least, in relatively fresh air and sunlight if you’re a city person). Studies show that putting one foot in front of the other outdoors … even for just a few minutes … can help boost mood.

6. Eat something healthy.
Hangry people are not happy people, and sometimes the simplest mood-upping-fix is a quick nosh on something relatively healthy, Mramor said. “Dark chocolate, in moderation, is a good thing,” she added. “Eat a balanced snack with proteins, carbs and fats, which balances blood sugar and improves mood.” Maybe grab an apple with some cheddar cheese or peanut butter, spread an avocado on toast or dip into a greek yogurt with whatever fruit topping suits your fancy.

7. Pretend you’re relocating.
moving boxes
In her research, Lyubomirsky has asked men and women to imagine that this month is the last month they’re going to live in their hometown.”People really change,” she said. “They change what activities they do — they savor their friends and their neighbors.” What might you embrace, or what nearby adventures might you finally prioritize if you were moving soon?

8. ‘Flow.’
“‘Flow’ refers to activities that you get involved in, where you forget time and place,” Mramor said. “That can happen with writing, with music, with cooking. There have even been books written about how knitting causes happiness because it causes ‘flow.'” As long as you’re not throwing yourself into your chosen activity to distract yourself from other problems in your life, tapping into that feeling can produce big happiness gains. So get dancing, painting … fill-in-the-blank.

9. Call a (not-just-on-Facebook) friend.
woman on phone
A main contributor to happiness is social contact. For the biggest emotional payoff, think beyond Facebook or Twitter acquaintances and get in touch with someone you’re genuinely close to. “It can be e-mail — it doesn’t have to be face-to-face — but it has to be with someone you know in order for that to really work,” Mramor said. Here’s an idea: combine two happiness hacks and call a friend while you take a walk outside? Or go meet a friend for an hour or two at the end of the day, even if you’re tired or feel like you have too much else to do. It’s truly good for your health.

5 Questions the World’s Most Successful People Ask Themselves
It is easy to look at successful people and think they have this life thing all figured out. They may seem like the A+ students of life. But being successful isn’t all its cracked up to be if you aren’t happy. The most successful people have a pattern of behavior that helps them connect to happiness every day. Instead of gauging their success by their bank account numbers, they aim for other benchmarks — things like “Did I make a difference today?” or “Am I doing the best I can?”

We all want to be happy and healthy, but for many of us that means reaching a certain level of success as well. If you want to be successful beyond your wildest dreams, ask yourself the questions the world’s most successful people ask themselves.

1. Do I embrace my failures?
Thomas Edison said it best, “I am not a failure, I just found 1,000 ways electricity will not work.” Than BAM! with a little more effort, electricity was born. Never give up on your dreams — keep going! With each new failure you have a new opportunity to achieve success. If you aren’t failing enough, you aren’t trying hard enough.

2. Am I having a blast?
Successful people gauge their success by the amount of fun they are having. Successful people absolutely love their jobs, so for many it doesn’t feel like they work a day of their life — in fact it is mostly play.

3. Does my fear motivate my action?
We all have fears, but the difference between successful people and those who ignore their dreams is FEAR. Successful people use their fear to motivate them to action instead of letting it take them out of the game and pull them under. Fear can be used as a tool to help guide you to your inspiration.

4. Does my inspiration guide me?
The world’s most successful people stay inspired and use their inspiration to create new ideas. Inspiration is the catalyst to self-actualization.

5. Do I relax enough?
Uber-successful people ride the waves of life with grace and ease, instead of fighting against the current and pushing in directions that are closed off. Relax into the natural rhythm of your life and watch your dreams come true.

For more success and life tips follow Shannon Kaiser on Facebook.

Flirtation or Infidelity? What’s Okay and What’s Not
A question that often arises in my practice is what constitutes infidelity? When is a flirtation innocent and when does it go too far? How can you draw lines when it comes to your and your partner’s behavior, especially when these lines have become increasingly blurred by a digital age, in which social media, text messaging and instant communication have made affairs more accessible?

Today’s technology can provide a perfect platform for secrecy. Websites like even attempt to legitimize deception by offering a secure spot to seek out an affair. One of the problems with the Internet is that your online behavior has a certain feeling of distance from real life. Think about how easy it is to shop, for example. Purchasing with the click of a button doesn’t have the same cognitive effect as having to physically dish out your money at a cash register. The same is true with an online flirtation; the instant gratification, ease and speed of an interaction almost make it feel like it didn’t even happen.

For those in relationships, technology not only sets a stage for deceptive behavior, but it also stirs up a whole new realm of jealousy and paranoia. Not only are couples abusing each other’s trust by engaging in online infidelity, when they are suspicious, they are using technology to invade each other’s privacy. People, who normally respect the boundaries of another person, are logging in to their partner’s Facebook account or skimming their partner’s phone for signs of cheating. These trust violations simply perpetuate the cycle of dishonesty and paranoia.

At the 2013 APA Conference, Erin Holley presented the results of a recent survey on what people consider infidelity. The survey revealed that most participants had conflicting attitudes. In relation to themselves, they thought a wider range of behaviors did not meet their criteria for infidelity, whereas for their partner, they considered almost any behavior infidelity. It is my observation that relationship partners may have a discussion about commitment and infidelity, but they rarely go into detail about how each of them defines infidelity. They often believe they agree on what constitutes infidelity only to find out down the line that they do not. These discrepancies may partly stem from cultural differences, and particularly the culture of the family a person grew up in. It is important for each partner to identify and describe their personal models around infidelity and commitment. The lack of clarity most couples have around this important issue leaves room for ambiguity and deception, which leads to a lot of confusion and hurt.

One of the problems with drawing the line between right and wrong is that not all standards are necessarily universal. Every person has to decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with in their relationship. They then have to communicate clearly and honestly how they feel, while accepting the reality that they have no real control over their partner. Whatever you and your partner agree upon, however, you should adhere to with integrity and respect. You can only build trust with one another if you are honest and live by your words.

Here are five rules every person can follow to have a more trustworthy relationship:

1. Honor Your Choices as Your Own
If and when you and your partner choose to have a monogamous relationship, be clear about what that means to each of you. Talk about how each of your views about monogamy was shaped and what you feel comfortable with. Once you are clear about what you are committing to, then each of you should honor that decision, accepting full responsibility for your choice.

One mistake people make when they think about fidelity is the assumption that they’ve forfeited their freedom. They feel that their partner is forcing them to follow certain guidelines. Yet, no one can really make you do anything. Choosing to be with just one person is still a choice. You can decide to be with one person and still feel free, because you own that decision.

If you start to doubt or change your mind about your decisions, you should talk about it openly, rather than saying one thing and doing another. However, when you start to fool yourself into believing you’ll never be attracted to anyone else or have the urge to flirt, you’re setting an unrealistic standard that will likely be hard to comply with in the long run. In addition, once you do inevitably violate one of these restrictions, you’re blurring the lines you yourself created and may run the risk of engaging in other, more explicitly prohibited activities that would hurt your partner and violate whatever your agreement is.

2. Set Standards for Yourself Independently from Your Partner
In my blog, “What’s Wrong with Infidelity,” I talked about some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to maintaining your sense of yourself as a free individual, while still being honest and considerate of your partner. The best way to create this balance is to generate your own standards for your behavior separate from your partner’s. If you want your partner to treat you a certain way, then you should set the tone for the relationship by choosing how you behave in even the most challenging of situations. If you’re reliable, consistent and trustworthy as opposed to erratic, suspicious and dishonest, then you’re far more likely to get the same from your partner. Plus, no matter what happens in the relationship, you can feel strong and solid in the fact that you maintained your own integrity, a quality you can take with you into any relationship.

3. Avoid Making Unrealistic Rules
When a person makes too many rules in an effort to restrict a partner, they have to be careful about what the cost is to the relationship. They have to wonder: am I breeding an environment of resentment? Am I limiting my partner in ways that interfere with his/her spirit or vitality? When you place extremely restrictive boundaries on your partner, you often diminish the very traits that drew you to them in the first place — an outgoing personality, acknowledgment, charisma and natural warmth, for example. A relationship based on emotional manipulations and guilt-inducing ultimatums hardly has a solid foundation to stand on.

It can be hurtful and limiting to punish someone every time they express an attraction or even so much as glance at another person you find threatening. If you punish your partner for being honest about any attractions to others, you may push them to hide aspects of themselves and even to lie to you. When you react with excessive fear or jealousy, it’s important to ask yourself: is this about my partner or is it about me? Is he/she truly untrustworthy, or am I mistrusting? How much are my own insecurities dictating how I treat my partner?

4. Never Lie
For a long time, I’ve said that the biggest problem with infidelity is deception. Lying to your partner or distorting his or her reality is frankly a human rights violation. Whatever you and your partner openly and clearly agree to in your relationship is fine, but lies and deception will only serve to create distance and distrust — two common destroyers of any relationship.

Trust can be a difficult thing to build, because people already carry their own defenses and distrust from past hurts, rejections and deceptions. Yet, trust and communication are fundamental to establishing closeness, intimacy and real love. Your partner should be someone you can talk to, someone who you can offer honest feedback to, and who you can encourage to do the same to you.

Many relationship experts believe there are times when honesty is not the best policy, but I strongly disagree. Even when “not wanting to unnecessarily hurt someone’s feelings” seems like a kind sentiment, it is actually a justification; there is never a real reason to be dishonest with someone you love. Think about how you would feel. Wouldn’t you rather have your partner be truthful? If you later found out your partner had shaded the truth or outright lied to you about an infidelity, would you be hurt and angry and feel betrayed? If your honest answer to these questions is “yes,” then you are better off assuming your partner feels the same. The ultimate consideration is what kind of person do you want to be in a relationship? If you want to be a person of honesty and integrity, then being forthright with your partner is the only real option.

Also, don’t lie to yourself. People often fool themselves that they are not really attracted to that person at work, or that this behavior is okay, that it doesn’t really meet their definition of infidelity, or if their partner doesn’t find out, it’s okay. As one therapist I know reports, when patients ask him if a certain behavior constitutes infidelity, he replies “would your partner consider it infidelity?” I agree that if you are unsure or uncertain about what is okay or not you should clarify it with your partner, rather than use any ambiguity in your agreement to slip into deception.

5. Don’t Give Up Aspects of Yourself
No matter what, your relationship should always expand your life, not shrink it. Getting to know a new person introduces you to a novel world of activities, interests, people, places and ideas. Yet, after a while many couples enter into a “Fantasy Bond,” an illusion of connection in which the form of the relationship replaces the real substance. People let go of their individuality in favor of a merged identity that, although often unexciting or even unpleasant, creates a false sense of safety and security.

Couples in a fantasy bond often place countless restrictions on each other, expecting their partner to perform a certain function or role rather than be their own separate person with a sovereign mind. Ironically, that very independence and uniqueness is what drew you to that person in the first place. Asking them to narrow their worlds can ultimately serve to make you less attracted to your partner.

Conversely, when your partner expects you to limit your world, you will likely wind up feeling trapped and resentful. Affairs become more appealing when a couple stops feeling that excitement and passion for each other. They may start resenting each other as real feelings of love and affection are replaced with roleplaying and acting out of expectation. They may start withholding the very qualities that attracted them to each other.

Thus, by keeping your world big, your communication open and your sense of self intact, you actually create an environment in which you are more satisfied and less likely to look elsewhere for connection. In this sense, the more freedom you and your partner allow each other, the less likely you are to betray each other’s trust.

Join me and Dr. Pat Love for the April 8 Webinar, “Relationships 2.0: Navigating love, lust, commitment, infidelity in the new millennium

Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at

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