At the beginning of this year, I left comfort in search of the unknown. I left safety for adventure. I left the top, for the bottom, the boss became the no one. What I didn't expect though, is that in leaving my successes behind, I would experience lots of failure, and how much I needed that.
I worked for College Works for over 10 years. I started as an intern in 2008 while a student at UC Irvine. By 2010 I was one of the top performing District Managers in the company, and by 2012 I was a Vice President. In 2014 I became a partner, and for the next 4 years I ran the California Division of the company with my best bud Derek, and we managed over 100 employees and did over $3.5MM in revenue, all while making a huge impact on the lives of the students that we coached and mentored. Our vision back in 2014 was to create a training program for college students that was so good, that hiring managers in California, especially Silicon Valley, couldn't ignore the caliber of our graduates. By some objective standards, and mostly subjective ones, we created incredible momentum towards that vision. All in all, running the company was a wild experience, filled with the most amazing people, priceless learning lessons, and unforgettable experiences.
At the end of 2017, Derek and I had the opportunity to pass the business on to two new leaders, one a seasoned veteran of the business and great friend, and one young up-and-comer with fresh energy and enthusiasm towards the business. After over 10 years for me, and over 12 for Derek, our time had finally come to move on. We loved the business, and by no means were we trying to escape it, but something deep down told us the time was right.
Of course, leaving something so great behind begs the question... what's next?
I had a broad answer to that question, which is of course: "run my own business." After 10 years of basically working for myself, I had become unemployable, while also developing the skillset and mindset to be self-employed. And going to work for a "normal" company, a 9-5 in an office somewhere, that's just not me.
I also thought I had the specific answer to that question as well. And this is where the failure list, a one-sided onslaught of rapid fire set of punches to the face, officially starts. The funny thing is that I had no clue I was showing up to a fight, but I learned that I was tougher and more well trained than I thought.
The Failure List
1. The koi business is a cold splash of water.
This was idea one, plan A, and what I told my colleagues at CWP would be my next step. My stepdad spent the last 17 years building a successful business that sold medicated products for koi fish and koi ponds. He was ready to retire and pass the business on, and wanted to keep the business in the family. My brother and I flew up to Sacramento and met with him to discuss the details. It was a great opportunity, but something deep down felt like it wasn't the right move for me. My stepdad eventually ended up selling the business to a different buyer, and even though it was the best decision for him, the new buyers, and me, it still hit me like a cold bucket of water to the face... well now what am I going to do?
2. The info product business doesn't pass proof of concept.
The reason why I didn't aggressively pursue the koi business is because I'm a very purpose/mission driven person. That business checked the work-for-myself box, and the money box, but not the mission box. I wanted to create something where I could continue to coach and help college students. That manifested itself in the form of informational products, like e-books, subscription boxes, and Udemy courses. I worked through some ideas, and eventually created my first minimum viable product. I spent probably about 50 hours, and over $100 on some Facebook advertising, and got some solid traffic numbers, but ZERO paying customers, even at an incredibly low price point.
3. The Amazon FBA business crashes and burns for nearly a $20k loss.
Info products didn't go anywhere, so why not try physical products? My brother runs a successful Amazon FBA business, where he has 2 private label product lines, one is DIY furniture, and the other is hotel amenities, and over 50 products total. FBA stands for Fulfilled by Amazon, so as a seller, you use Amazon to sell and fulfill all of your products, versus having your own website, POS, inventory management and storage, and doing your own shipping and fulfillment. I came up with an idea for a product line, picture frames and home decorations, and ran with it full speed. I found a manufacturer in China on Alibaba, and used a freight forwarding service to ship my products from overseas, through customs, and to the Amazon warehouses across the US.
To make an incredibly long and frustrating story short, I was hit with a perfect storm of bad product choice, unforeseen costs, packaging and shipping problems, and seller support frustrations. I made some very stupid decisions: I didn't do enough research on the Amazon packaging guidelines or storage fees, I didn't do enough product testing, and I ordered way too much inventory. I moved too fast, I wasn't careful or diligent enough, I was overly bold and overconfident, and I broke some of my own entrepenreuial rules to reduce risk.
I lost nearly $20k, and I'm trying to justify it by thinking, "I could have spent that $20k on business school, but instead I spent it on real life experience and learning lessons learned the hard way." Regardless of how I justify it, this one really hurt. This one was a right-handed uppercut straight to the gut.
4. My cryptocurrency portfolio goes from sweet to salty.
All while the Amazon fiasco is going on, my saving grace was that I had made some timely speculations in the crypto market, before the huge craze at the end of 2017, and I had somewhat of a safety net built up. My investment was up nearly 10x, and more than enough to cover the Amazon loss. But what goes up fast, comes down even faster. By the time I actually needed the money to cover my losses and pay off some big credit card bills, most of the money was gone. I'm still up overall, but barely. I always looked at any money into crypto as both a long term play, and as a huge gamble and money I was willing to lose, but the timing of everything alongside the Amazon loss was like putting salt in my open wound.
5. The CEO of HealthIQ totally calls me out.
So at this point, I'm back in debt, and need to start making money ASAP. I started to seriously consider something I thought I would never do... try and get a "real" job. I get in contact with a super cool company through an old colleague. HealthIQ celebrates the health conscious by giving them lowered rates on life and health insurance, because why should someone who is healthy and taking care of themselves pay the same rate as someone who isn't? I did a few phone calls with the VP of Talent, and went into their San Diego offices twice to meet with the CEO, and was incredibly excited about the opportunity to come on board a company with rocket ship growth, a badass CEO, who's mission I believed in, and in a project manager type of role that would be created specifically for me, based on my strengths and background.
But at the end of my 2nd meeting, and after shadowing AEs all day, the CEO was very skeptical about my willingness to come on and "grind" from the bottom up, in a fast-growing startup type environment. He challenged me, and said I had too many hobbies, and had too good of a lifestyle as the VP of College Works. I pushed back, but at the end of the day, he was right, and I respect him even more for calling me out and reading me better than I was reading myself. They gave me an entry-level offer, and I just couldn't take it.
6. The solar sales business sounded bright in theory, but it was far from sunny skies.
Interviewing with HealthIQ made me realize that I didn't really want to get a real job, so I gravitated back to entrepreneurial ideas. Johnny, one of my favorite leaders and mentors at College Works, asked me to do some sales for his solar company on the weekends. After going through research and training on solar, I told Johnny I was interested in starting my own solar sales dealership, similar to his. This was right in my wheelhouse as far as skillset, I liked the business model, the profit model in solar is great, Johnny made it almost turnkey with training and setup, and most of all, I could definitely get rallied around a business that not only helps families save money, but also helps the environment. I remember being so sure that this was it, this was the idea that was going to stick.
To make another long story short, the solar market was way more tough and crowded than I had thought. By no means did I think it was going to be easy, but I did think I was going to be able to do it my way. I went out 7 or 8 times, and knocked on doors for a few hours at a time. Each time, I tweaked my script, and scouted better and better neighborhoods. The result of over 16 hours of door knocking... 1 appointment done.
7. Liftopia and I find love, but they won't put a ring on it.
So, back to the job market we go, and now I reallllllly needed to start making money. I caught what was almost a break, an almost perfect opportunity. Liftopia is the company behind the Mountain Collective Pass, the snowboarding pass I've had and loved for the last 2 seasons that has brought me to Jackson, Aspen, Sun Valley, Whistler, the Canadian Rockies, and much more. Beyond the pass, Liftopia is a SaaS company for ski resorts, and they were hiring a remote AE. Selling software to ski resorts, and working remote, could there be a more perfect job for me? I sent over a super good cover letter and had a phone interview set up within 48 hours.
A few phone calls and Skype interviews later, they wanted me to come up to their office in SF and have me meet the rest of the team. They flew me up, treated me to lunch, I feel like I aced every interview with every team member including the CEO, and even stayed for a margarita at their team meeting and in-office happy hour at the end of the day. Everyone I met was so awesome, the company was exactly my style and speed, and I thought FOR SURE, THIS WAS IT! But it wasn't. They said that I was their first interview, and wanted to at least interview a few more people before making a final decision. 2 weeks later, they informed me they decided to hire a referral candidate, a friend from a current employee, instead of me.
8. I enrolled in Nutrition School, which officially made the debt pile a debt mountain.
Amidst all this failure, I was adamantly seeking a career that hit passion and practicality. I was getting deeper and deeper into ultramarathon running and Ironman triathlon training. I attended a webinar called Fueling For Endurance, and thought it was really interesting how food acts as fuel and affects recovery. Then I clicked on a sponsored ad on Instagram for Nutrition School. I thought, "what if I could combine my passion for endurance sports, health and nutrition, and coaching?" Seemed right on target!
The only problem is that Nutrition School is a huge investment, and not only did I not have the money for it, but I was already knee deep in debt again from the Amazon fiasco and absence of any kind of money-making work for months now. This was a tough decision. Was it actually a good idea, or was it just impulsive? Was it bad timing? Was it irresponsible to add another huge boatload of debt onto an already large debt pile? I enrolled, and the debt crossed the $30k marker. Sessions started a month later, and I had no idea if it was the right decision or not.
Learning From Failure
I took non-stop, consecutive, rapid fire punches straight to the face. I'm sure that there are plenty more punches to come, but I was finally able to land a few good counter punches. Today, I find myself semi-self-employed and working with TheLions in a remote job that hits the mission-money-lifestyle boxes better than any of the previous opportunities. In nutrition school, I think I've found a long term path towards purpose and meaning. And on top of that, I've accomplished a few bucket list personal goals that have been dreams of mine forever, and I'm working towards bigger goals I had never even dreamed of. I'm far from where I want to be, but the dust has settled a bit, and I feel like it's a good time to get a couple learning lessons down on paper.
Time to drink my own medicine.
At College Works, my job was to dish out advice. All my students were going through an incredibly tough entrepreneurial experience, filled with rejection, failure, and long learning curves. It was my job to give them a dose of inspiration and motivation when they needed it most, and prevent them from giving up. I always knew what fresh perspective to prescribe. I was pretty good at it. All of my advice was built on my own personal experience, having been in their shoes a long time before, combined with my 10 years of experience after that, and my massive library of books, articles and podcasts. But honestly, it had been a while since I had to apply my motivational medicine to myself.
So here I was, after years of giving sound career advice to hundreds of students, I was making my own career moves and I was lost, more like flailing like a fish out of water. I love giving the "minimize risk, do small tests, establish proof of concept, blah blah" spiel when people ask me entrepreneurial advice, and here I was, $20k in the red from the Amazon business after breaking all my own rules. It's funny to think how many motivational speeches I've given to try and get my students to go knock on more doors, and here I was, dreading the thought of knocking on more doors for solar.
It's all pretty funny, I think. Funny, and necessary. I needed this. I needed to get punched in the face. I needed to go out there and be reminded that it's a fucking war zone out there. I needed to find out what my own medicine tastes like. I learned that it doesn't taste very good. But it works. It fucking works, but it doesn't make it any less hard.
Macro Patience. Micro Speed.
Thank you Gary Vee for my favorite GEM of the past year. Man I've dished this out so many times, and man I've learned that this really is the key.
On a micro level, attack the week and attack the day. Move fast. Don't waste the days worrying about the future. Squeeze every bit of potential out of every day and every hour. Hustle. Fail fast, learn and move on.
But on a macro level, have patience. Success takes time, there is no overnight success. I'm not entitled to success just because I'm working hard. I'm definitely not entitled to success because of my previous successes. Don't feel frustrated because things aren't happening fast enough. And don't compare myself to others who seem to have things moving much faster than me. Have patience.
I failed a shit ton over the past year. But when I failed, I failed fast, I learned fast, and I moved on fast. The failure didn't slow me down. All the failures paved my road to success. I wouldn't have been a fish out of water unless the koi business fell through (pun intended). I wouldn't have interviewed at HealthIQ unless I had failed the Amazon business. And I wouldn't have tried the solar business if I hadn't shadowed a day in an office environment at HealthIQ. And then I wouldn't have interviewed at Liftopia if I hadn't failed to start the solar business. And then I wouldn't have pursued TheLions (my ex-girlfriend's company) unless I was absolutely desperate LOL! In retrospect, the dots all connect, like Steve Jobs famously said in his Stanford Commencement Speech. (more on this in a sec)
Of course, I didn't move failure to failure like the Terminator, my face getting torn to shreds and I don't feel a thing. It hurt, it was a real struggle, and I got to deal with some deep shit. I played a lot of the compare game, filled with "what will my friends think?" scenarios. Let me just run through a few of these:
- "X already owns a house and makes $ money per year, and I'm so far behind in debt."
- "I wonder what Y will think if I go from being Vice President, to an entry level SDR or AE?"
- "Z runs a successful solar company, so why am I failing so hard at it?"
- "My brother can launch 50 products on Amazon, and I can't even launch one."
I also started to really doubt myself...
- "Maybe I'm only good at College Works, and I should go back."
- "Maybe running College Works was all luck, and I'm really not that good."
- "Maybe my skills I learned as a VP aren't transferrable to anything in the real world."
- "Maybe I don't have what it takes to be an entrepreneur."
- "I'm never going to get out of debt. I'm going to be poor forever."
- "I should just accept the fact that I'm going to be a surf and ski bum for the rest of my life."
Good thing I read all that Stoic philosophy and spent those 100 sessions on the Headspace app a few years ago, practicing mindfulness and learning how to listen to my own internal chatter. Tara Brach, meditation teacher from the Tim Ferriss podcast, explains this well in her "Taking Mara To Tea" buddhist parable: don't hide from your negative emotions, but instead take them to tea, sit down with them, get to know them, and seek to understand them. I really got to know a different side of myself, the unconfident person filled with doubts and insecurities. Honestly, I'm glad I got to know the more vulnerable parts of me. And this whole experience humbled the shit out of me. I needed to be humbled.
I was highly equipped with the mindset to deal with these negative thoughts. These negative thoughts never stood a chance. Going back to the idea of macro patience micro speed, I knew that I just had to give it more time. I knew that I just had to keep working hard, and keep moving forward. I knew that it wasn't going to be easy. I knew nothing good was going to happen overnight, and in retrospect, despite all the struggle, I'm actually very grateful that I got back on my feet so fast. I was ready for TheLions to take a lot longer to see success than it actually did.
Here is another way to think about it. Failure, plus reflection and learning, plus focusing on actions instead of outcomes and others, multiplied by time and patience, equals success. That was a mouthful haha, so simplified, it looks like this:
(Fail + Learn + Action) x Patience = Success
Failure? "GOOD" (Jocko voice)
Here's another gem worth mentioning, this time from Navy SEAL badass Jocko Willink. Watch this 2 minute video...
Here is what Jocko says in the video, and also in his book, Discipline Equals Freedom -
- Oh, the mission got canceled? Good. We can focus on another one.
- Didn’t get the new high-speed gear we wanted? Good. We can keep it simple.
- Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better.
- Didn’t get funded? Good. We own more of the company.
- Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good. Go out, gain more experience, build a better resume.
- Got injured? Good. Needed a break from training.
- Got tapped out? Good. It’s better to tap out in training than tap out on the street.
- Got beat? Good. We learned.
- Unexpected problems? Good. We have an opportunity to figure out a solution”
Similarly, Josh Waitzkin (chess champ, author of The Art of Learning, frequent guest on Tim Ferriss Podcast) teaches his son to say "Oooo that feels GOOD!" when he hops in a cold shower. This is hilarious, and brilliant!
It's all in your mindset. Failure can be good or bad, and you get to decide. When things are going bad, there is going to be some good that comes from it.
It's funny, because with each failure, as they happened, and even more in retrospect, it's easy to see that it was good that they all happened. Check this out:
- Koi business gets sold - Good, especially good for my stepdad, and good for me because it wasn't the right avenue for me and it made the decision easy and final.
- Info products sucked - Good, I still learned a lot with the research and creation of the content, and lost hardly any money. (and after the fact, I used some of the content in a consulting project that I got paid for, and in my coaching practice)
- Amazon business loses $20k - Good, I needed to be taught tough lessons, the kind you can't learn in a book, and even losing $5k wouldn't have been tough enough. I also needed the financial sense of urgency in my career search.
- HealthIQ gives entry level offer - Good, I learned that I don't want an inside sales job anyways and it was great experience shadowing their sales rep for a day and meeting their super smart CEO.
- Solar sales business fails - Good, good that I got 1 lead in 16 hours of door to door, if I would have seen 10-20% more success than I did, I might have stuck with it longer and would have been in store for a long crazy sales grind.
- Liftopia says no - Good, this made pursuing my current role with TheLions so much easier.
Have a strong compass.
I love what Steve Jobs says in his Stanford Commencement about connecting the dots. You can't connect them looking forward, only backwards. I explained above how I could not have jumped straight to my job at TheLions, I could have only got here by bushwhacking my way through the invisible path of CWP > Koi > Amazon > HealthIQ > Solar > Liftopia > TheLions. Each failure beautifully led to the next. Nutrition school is so far beyond anything I would have ever considered, and to be honest, after I enrolled I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. But that's where I was, far beyond the safe shores, in the open waters where I was more willing to grab onto anything that seemed like it could float.
But, although I call it the invisible path, I did have somewhat of an internal compass guiding me the whole time. I wrote a blog post back in February called Career Moves and I talk about trying to navigate career decisions. I talk about Tim Urban's Yearning Octopus (pictured above), and Chris Guillebeau's Joy-Money-Flow Venn diagram from his book Born For This-Winning the Career Lottery. I talk about ikigai, the Japanese word/idea that roughly translates to "life purpose" or "reason for being" and is explained with a crazy 4 part Venn diagram. And lastly, there is the Formula for the Perfect Job from 80,000 Hours which is a website that helps people find meaningful careers.
My takeaway from all the venn diagrams and formulas was that there are a lot of variables to consider when deciding on a career path or career move. It's not just about enjoying the job, or being good at it, or getting paid well, or the perks, or working with great people, or making an impact, or having freedom... it's about triangulating with all the variables. It's about knowing what I want (this part is harder than it sounds). It's about tradeoffs.
But here is the way it works: understanding only comes from experience. I further understand my yearnings once certain tentacles are challenged. I only know what gives me joy or flow or money once I try it. Ikigai makes you ask "what do I love?" But what I think I will love, and what I actually will love, are often very different. And the formula for the perfect job has a multiplier called "Personal Fit" which is funny because how do you know if something fits unless you try it on?
So as I was failing, I was learning. I had my map and compass on the table, and with each failure, I would re-triangulate my position and plot a new course.
And it's worth noting that I tried to stay true to myself during the whole process. This was like my North Star. I could have gotten a haircut before going into job interviews, but do I really want to work somewhere that it mattered? I could have given better answers instead of truer answers in my interviews. The CEO of HealthIQ called my ass out on having too many hobbies and too good of a lifestyle, and it felt kind of crappy at the time, but it turns out that he was right, and I was right, and now it's easy to see that was a near miss. I could have used a bait&switch solar marketing script, but didn't feel like that was my style, and therefore got 1 appointment from days of door knocking.
Because I was staying true to myself, I always had a sense that things were happening the way they were supposed to happen.
Support is crucial, and I'm so grateful for all of it.
From a financial perspective, all of this would have been impossible without the support of those who love me. When I was getting out of debt the first time, I moved back home with my mom. Currently, I still don't pay rent. My amazing and successful girlfriend Ashley pays all the rent. Unlike me, she is completely kicking ass in her career. She has been incredibly supportive over the last year as I make my career transition, and I couldn't have done it without her. And even small things, like a meal here and a meal there, from friends and family. You know who you are, and I hope you know that I remember every single meal, I owe you, and I'm good for it, either in the form of returning the gesture directly, or passing the generosity and support onto the next one in need.
And much more important than the financial support, is the unwavering moral support of Ashley, all my friends and family, and all my friends and mentors at College Works, towards my crazy goals and chosen life of non-conformity. Not a single person throughout this whole experience told me that I should give up, conform, and get a real job. I didn't receive a single lecture about entrepreneurial risks, credit card debt, or doing the "smart" aka safe thing. No one told me to cut my long hair if I wanted a better chance of getting hired. I literally can't think of a single person I'm close with, during all of this, who wasn't in complete support of me and my personal goals. "No Jarric, you shouldn't buy a bike and get into the expensive sport of Ironman Triathlons while you're in debt and don't have a job," said no one ever. You hear a lot of entrepreneurs and successful people talk about needing to ignore the naysayers, or the friends and family that try and convince them to play it safe. Well, that doesn't exist in my life, either by design, or because I'm really really lucky. I think it's 90% the latter. And I'm so so grateful.
So, it's been a long year, and a long fight. And it's only August, haha! Who knows how the rest of the year will unfold.
My closing thoughts are this:
Read Stoic philosophy. Practice mediation and mindfulness. Apply these to your everyday life.
Don't fear failure, because there is nothing to fear. Fail, because then you'll see.
Fail, because you are daring greatly.
Fail, but after an honest effort, and be honest in reflection.
Fail, and practice extreme ownership.
Fail, but fail fast and move on.
(Fail + Learn + Action) x Patience = Success
Fail, and know that the negative thoughts will come with it, so be ready for them.
Fail, and accept support.
Fail, write it into your success story, because without it, it's not a good story.