Alumni Voices

Four Transformative Lessons from Failure

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Thank you to CSIS Guest Blogger, Tia Kansara. Tia is a Global Social Impact House 2017 Fellow, and founder of Replenish.

13 years ago,  I decided not to go down the traditional route of a 9-5 job. I’d just returned from teaching English in Japan and desperately wanted to pay off my student loans. I thought I’d use my economics degree and go into banking. (More than banking, I was interested in how my pay cheque would make me feel “debtless.”) A friend of mine suggested I meet his father, thinking he may have a job for me. Curiously, this person ended up offering me a 50% partnership if we started a firm together. I laughed at first, not understanding how architecture and economics could join forces; I lacked the foresight then to envision how they might combine to create a remarkable discipline. (I now stand corrected.)

Running a venture has been tough, but I’ve learned from four key areas in which I have failed − and emerged much stronger. Here are the four transformative lessons I’ve gained from failing, from the first approach to its better adaptation.

Think you know it all. → “Welcome surprises!”

Fake it till you make it, right? This approach leaves no room for serendipity, or spontaneous out-of-the-box being. This is a surefire path to narrow-mindedness. As a social entrepreneur − when people would ask what I was doing − I’m not sure that I myself knew the answer half of the time. I had to believe in the not-yet-defined and have faith in my abilities. There’s a fine line between arrogance and humility − and this is where it exists. ‘Being the best’ requires being open to change and actualising your learnings in order to adapt to new situations. Be sure to keep an eye on your “knowing that you know” tendency,lest it get out of control. Remain open and honest − most importantly to yourself.

Get back to work! → “Wait…stop – did you see that??”

Milestones are important, especially when they define our success; however, don’t forget to congratulate your own accomplishments. Yes − that emotional satisfaction! What does it feel like to complete something? When you’ve done well, admit it to yourself. Take some time to enjoy the present moment and let it sink in.

Live on urgent! → “Prioritise the important.”

I’m being mindful not to turn my life into a virtual scroll-athon: I’ve switched off all notifications from my phone and I’m the better for it. I used to be very reactive − and now I’m less so. Who needs to know that someone has ‘liked’ your post? I don’t want to be trained to use my phone just for social media. I’ve learnt to take some time to learn what the real priorities are and respond to those that are most important to me. I invite you to do the same.

Ignore your core values. → “Live by your core values.”

It’s taken me 2 years to work out my core values and governing principles. Without knowing them, I have taken huge risks and gambled my time doing things that were unaligned, which meant frustrations all round. There’s nothing like the feeling of not achieving your full potential and knowing you can do better. Find your core values and live by your governing principles. I promise you, it’ll be the best investment of your resources you’ve made over the course of your life.

About the author: Tia Kansara is an award-winning entrepreneur, moderator, lecturer and author. She is the founder and director of Kansara Hackney Ltd. (KH), the first ISO quality-controlled sustainable lifestyle consultancy in the UK. Tia did her Ph.D. at the Bartlett, University College London on designing future cities and energy evaluation in the Gulf. Since then she has published several papers and has been invited to advise on sustainable cities with governments and the private sector as well as keynote speeches at conferences around the world, such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, BioTrade Initiative on sustainability. Her recent work involves providing city governments with her concept of Replenish, a per capita assessment of ecosystem services; and publishing her book, Replenish Earth.