Michael Schroeder attended the Forbes Under 30 Summit, using funding available to students pursuing the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate. Read on for details on his experience. If you are pursuing the I&E Certificate and you would like to apply for this funding, click this link.
Failure. As Duke students, it is something that we often consider as not being an option, or something to be avoided at all costs. We are consummate achievers, pursuing only those things in which we excel and shying away from those things in which we may stumble. However, in all of my exposure to the entrepreneurial world, the most successful people stress that failures are some of the most important experiences, in life as in entrepreneurship. When I went to the Forbes Under 30 Summit as a Forbes Under 30 Scholar, I expected to see people who were the pictures of success, merely coming to the conference to speak about what they had achieved. Yet even in this environment of extreme success and accomplishments, failure was something that all had endured, and even embraced.
The importance of experiencing and dealing with failure was a theme across many speakers’ presentations. My personal favorite interview was with Kendrick Lamar, a Grammy award-winning rapper and songwriter from Compton, CA. One of the main themes of his interview was about how he could not have been successful if he had been afraid of failure. “You have to almost intimidate this word… there is no better way,” Lamar said. “Failure is the one thing that stops us all from being our own entrepreneurs and following our dreams and having ownership of what we do.” This is the same sentiment I have heard echoed by many of the successful entrepreneurs I have had the opportunity of meeting since coming to Duke University.
However, I am generally somewhat skeptical of these words of advice, due to survivorship bias. In other words, I fear that the only people you hear advice from are those who have managed to be successful, while there may be many times more people who followed the exact same words of advice, but failed at whatever it is they tried to do. In essence, I feel that it’s a lot easier to say, “Follow your dreams!” when your dreams came true.
I had these concerns addressed in an interview with Sophia Amoruso, founder of women’s fashion retailer Nasty Gal, and one of the richest self-made women in 2016. However, within the next year, she stepped down as CEO of her company, got divorced, and watched as her company filed for bankruptcy. Here was someone who had seen great success, having followed her dreams, only to have it all slip away. Hearing her speak about how she plans to still move forward, in the face of all of this failure, was truly inspiring. She answered my skepticism with resilience. What happens when you follow your dreams and they don’t come true? You keep going.
Michael is a senior studying computer science as well as Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Outside of school, he enjoys playing ultimate and the piano. After graduating in December, he looks forward to working as a software engineer for Facebook in Cambridge, MA.