There’s a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering — Elon Musk

As Elon’s quote implies, a lack of failure isn’t success. It’s just optimizing the wrong thing. Rather than protect against failure, you should count on it and know what you will do to recover from it. Getting comfortable with failure is a key step in becoming a better risk–taker and successful leader. That is why we celebrate failure and persistence in the college. Today, we begin the 13th installment of our Failure Competition. Entering our competition is simple:

  • Write an account of a failure you have experienced in the past. Your failure story has to focus on a time you stepped out of your comfort zone to experience something new: the farther the better. Tell us why this was such a stretch for you, the failure that resulted and what you learned from the experience that would be of interest to others. It needs to be genuine; people can spot a fish story a mile way.
  • While the Failure Competition began with students in our capstone class, it is now open to any UCF student on campus: undergraduate, graduate or EMBA, business, education, engineering or whatever. The only requirement is that you currently be enrolled at UCF. About a year ago, we had a music student win the competition.
  • Need inspiration or guidance to tell your story? Search my blog. We have posted many stories about failure over the years.

Here are the ground rules, complete with important deadlines:

To enter, you must post your essay in response to this blog. If you are a capstone student this semester include your section number and name of your instructor. If you are not in this class, tell me your class standing ( e.g., freshman, senior, graduate student) and your field of study. You must complete this exercise by 5 p.m. on Friday, April 6. Don’t Worry If You Don’t See it Right Away. It’s a moderated board, I Have to Accept It before you will see it.

You have to get me your written entry by April 6 at 5 p.m.  I will notify you if you are a finalist by Monday, April 9 at 5 p.m.

The finalists will be asked to submit short videos based on their essays. Those videos must be sent to me by 5 p.m. on April 16.

I will then feature one video each day on my blog starting April 17 and a vote by everyone reading my blog will determine the winner Friday, April 20.  The vote will close at 5 p.m.

The winner will get a letter of recommendation from me along with a $500 prize. Second place will get $300, third place $200. These monies are awarded through our financial aid office.

Good Luck


8 thoughts on “There’s a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering — Elon Musk

  1. Smooth Move

    One of my favorite quotes by author J.K. Rowling says this “But it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.” My role models whether it be a famous celebrity or member of my family have all overcome adversity to reach their dreams. Failure is not the result of someone who doesn’t try, but quite the opposite. It means that you tried so hard that your vision may have been misinterpreted or maybe that this setback is meant to lead you down a different path. The thing that differentiates an underdog from someone who is successful is how he or she uses that obstacle to fuel them. If we cannot stand up to our giants take David and Goliath for example, how can we accomplish anything?

    I have always considered myself an entrepreneur at heart. From creating a caramel popcorn business at the age of thirteen, to selling all my used clothes on Ebay, or even making sand jars for my peers to purchase on the playground. I was relentless on having a steady flow of income while doing what I loved. These businesses had all thrived and I was admired for my tenacity- I thought I was unstoppable. Then, my senior year of high school I had this brilliant idea of making smoothies to sell during all the school lunches.

    My economics teacher that ran our school store at the time admired my passion for creating healthy options for students, and let me have at the resources. I was eager to start selling, and ran to Costco that day with the three hundred dollars he had given me. My friends and I loaded up the cart with juice, frozen fruit, cups, straws, and lids. We plastered signs all around the school with our creations and labeled a reasonable price of $4.00 per smoothie.

    The following day the bell rang for period A lunch, and it was a zoo… Students clamored down the hallway with money in hand. I anxiously looked around at my other peers running the school store – we only had one blender to work with. This was not the only problem though, the smoothies took so much of our ingredients that we could only produce twenty for the entire day. We had not practiced the recipes enough, and vastly underestimated the costs. Our margins were entirely off, and we would be in the negatives for lack of preparation.

    With tears almost streaming down my face at the end of the first lunch period, I had to put a sign on the door that said our smoothies were being discontinued. My teacher looked at me and said something that has stuck with me, “I knew that this wasn’t going to work your first go around. But I admired your confidence, and want to keep seeing you fail until you get it right.” I got angry at first. Why didn’t he step in? Why did he let me ruin my reputation? But he was spot-on; I needed to learn for myself.

    I stayed after school everyday the next two weeks perfecting my recipes, creating the operations sheet, and figuring out the financials for each drink. At the end of the fall semester I was ready to re-launch my product. This time rather than thinking I could do it all by myself, I trained all the other employees. They thoroughly believed in my mission, and I knew they would make it the success I had envisioned.

  2. “What Are You Capable of”
    Brandon Maritas

    My biggest failure was not knowing what I was capable of during my college career. When I first started, I already took a gap year, and then I failed my first class. I was immediately put on academic probation and because my GPA was at a 1.8, I was no longer qualified for financial aid. As a first-generation student, I had no knowledge of how the process of college worked and the main reason I was doing this was because I was tired of seeing my mother constantly sacrifice so much just to provide both me and my brother basic needs, such as food. When I found out that I couldn’t afford to go to college because of my ignorance and foolishness, I knew I had to make a change and become successful. The problem was that I didn’t know how. I didn’t have any sense of direction, nor did I have anyone there to help me along the way. The only idea I had was to get good grades and see where the process takes me.

    Along the way of taking classes I ran into a lot of obstacles in my life that I had to overcome. I had to deal with a murder of a young teenager in my neighborhood, while also working 40 plus hours in retail store, with barely any training due to being promoted on the day my two of my managers quit. I was told by a lot of people on a daily basis that I was never going to be anything in life to the point where I got depressed because I wanted to be successful and I started to actually believe that I really had no value in this world. In order to graduate three years later with my associates degree and be accepted into UCF, I had to take (4) six-week classes, Monday through Thursday, morning and night, at three different campuses with no reliable source of transportation and working 30 hours on the weekends.

    These obstacles for most people would make them want to quit and give up, but for me as much as it hurt I never forgot why I was doing this in the first place. That mentality allowed me to pass all my classes with good grades and my GPA went from starting with a 1.8 to a 3.1. When I arrived at UCF, it became clear what my path was going to be which was marketing and sales. I took the first step towards building that path by joining the sales club in the first semester. That step has now opened the door to so many opportunities for me. Now almost finished with my second semester, I have successfully been initiated as a brother of the professional business fraternity here at the college of business, Delta Sigma Pi. I have gained mentorships from professors and students; internships and job offer from recruiters. I am on the way to becoming a member of the Professional Selling Program. Though all of these are amazing accomplishments to have as a business student, the biggest accomplishment this college has given me is evidence that I truly mean something in this world. I stopped agreeing with everyone who said for so long that I was nothing and looked at everything I had to accomplish to get to the point where I am at now. From the first week of being at UCF, Dean Jarley had talked about “Getting to the One” and I had thought it meant to graduate with a good paying job. I see now that for me it’s seeing what I am capable of and now I know that I am capable of success.

  3. Stefan Williams
    Senior Undergrad
    College of Sciences – GEN Psychology
    Playing the piano was the first step to becoming a hobbyist musician when I was in elementary school. Music has always been an incredibly important part of my day to day life and I sometimes thought about what instrument I would play if I could. Going home from school with my mom one day, we saw a flyer for a piano teacher. The opportunity fell into my lap because mom said the piano is a great starting instrument, and I entertained the idea because I would get to create my own music. The only thing that went through my head then was that I could copy my favorite songs or make my own. I never thought the effort required was going to dissuade my creativity; I figured it would come easily like studies did when I was young. Piano proved to be the hardest thing I did during elementary. Never did I face something with a skill ceiling so high, I only knew of learning material to perfection from school. Having to practice songs I didn’t know or like with a teacher that intimidated me became dreadful. Lessons every Saturday became loathsome and the desire to practice on days without my teacher were rare. In hindsight, it was a tremendous waste of money and talent because I was good but afraid of performing for the teacher and not reaching my goals quickly. Fear of failure became engrained in me at an early age, and when I think of the beginning of it, it sprouted from piano. I’ve struggled with accepting that fact for a long time because no one wants to accept the thing that is his biggest weakness. It was a point of contention for the longest time with my father as well. He did not want to see me give up so quickly, but I thought of it differently. While I’d given up the piano, I’d given up soccer, and I’d given up my chosen career path, I refused to believe my quitting stemmed from a lack of conviction, but instead from an absence of passion at these points in my life. However, each of these departures conveniently came when school was overbearing or life was getting difficult. Specifically regarding music because it was generally considered unimportant to a sustainable career where I grew up. Putting the arts on the back-burner came naturally. When these decisions came into question, I protected my ego by flipping between two mindsets: I either always have had good reason to move on or I’ve always been a quitter. I desperately clung to the former because it painted myself in the brightest light. Fighting this mindset throughout my adolescence weighed on me and my relationship with my family, but it’s helped me mature into what I am now. One of the biggest epiphanies I had was many years later during high school.

    I did want to play music, the thought never left my mind after I quit piano. Piano itself didn’t keep me away, I love piano and play it with what little skill I have. Drums, guitar, and some other smaller interests came and went after a long break after the piano. Some stuck with me, others came and went as my interests rose and fell. I never fully went back to the piano because my love remained with the guitar and fine arts. However, my old habits followed closely because I never learned how to open my heart fully to the pursuits in my life. Excuses became commonplace such as “I don’t have time to play, there’s other things I want to do and I’ll practice later.” This is not a lesson I learned quickly or easily, and unluckily a lot of time passed and I still fall onto these habits. Being self-aware isn’t enough; I am self-aware yet I still fail to do what I love. I absolutely adore music, and not just listening – there’s a desire to create, modify and make sounds my own. Music isn’t the only endeavor I shirked, but it’s what stuck out the most because it was closest to my heart. I want to succeed in my studies, I want to work out more often, and I want to be more social than I am. I’ve made varying strides in all these pursuits and more, but with them came failure, effort and relapse. Perfection will not come, but I always can be better and while I keep the piano I left behind in mind I will always try to better so that I can live fully and happily with the choices I’ve made for myself.

  4. Misplaced
    Nicole Foust

    All my life I loved science, technology, engineering, and math. From elementary school all the way to high school I never had to study, never really had to try to get good grades, and honestly believed I was just naturally smart… but looking back on it I would say the term ignorant would fit me better.
    My senior year of high school I decided I would go to college to become a mechanical engineer, mostly because I enjoyed the aspect of STEM and no other reason. I wanted to save money, so I decided to do two years at the University of North Georgia doing their Regents Engineering Transfer Program (RETP) and then transfer into Georgia Tech. I was doing okay my first semester of college, but my non-existent study habits followed me from high school and I suddenly wasn’t making the grades I was used to getting. This fact upset me greatly, but I pushed the thought away because I was out having fun with friends and enjoying my college social life. I then started getting into my “major” courses which consisted of things like calculus one, calculus two, physics one, and chemistry. I ended up getting C’s in calculus one/physics one, withdrawing from calculus two, retaking it and then getting a C in it, and a D in chemistry. I was so distraught and blamed my bad grades on not studying and my friends giving me the mentality that “C’s get degrees” was okay. I knew at this rate I was not going to be accepted into Georgia Tech and I needed a better environment for myself.
    My boyfriend, of 5 years at the time, moved down to Florida to attend the University of Central Florida to pursue his degree in electrical engineering. We did a year of long-distance before I decided that I too would go to UCF to be with him and to put myself into a better environment for my academics. At the time I had a 2.9 GPA and was so anxious that UCF would deny my transfer application. I was so worried that I would be stuck at the school I was at and wouldn’t be able further my education. Well, to my surprise UCF accepted me for the Fall 2016 term and I remember crying tears of joy that I would be able to start over and have a new chance!
    That July, I moved down to Orlando and moved into an apartment with my boyfriend. I was all singed up for my engineering classes and excited to start fresh! Well, my fresh start didn’t go as well as I planned. I ended up failing two classes in my very first semester at UCF. That was my first time ever failing a class and I cried, I hated myself, and felt like the biggest disappointment. My boyfriend would remind me that grades aren’t everything and it’s okay to fail, but I still felt like I was stupid because for some reason those topics wouldn’t click in my head. I was put onto academic probation but was still determined to become an engineer. The next semester my boyfriend helped me study, and I scrapped by at keeping my GPA above the minimum where they kick you out of the college.
    I was unhappy, I felt tired and drained all the time, I wasn’t enjoying what my classes were teaching me, and the entire year I hadn’t made a single new friend. For the first time, in the three-year struggle, I thought maybe that’s not what I should be doing with my life. Why should I major in something that does nothing but make me miserable? Summer 2017 I officially switched my major to accounting and started my business classes right away! I took 12 credit hours that summer and got all A’s and B’s, which was a first for me in a long time. It felt good. I even made two new friends in those classes. Then I had the pleasure of taking Dr. Massiah’s marketing class. She was so passionate about marketing and I found myself studying in my spare time for her class. Me, the girl who never knew how to study, was actually studying and reading for a class. I ended up getting a 96 in her class and right away I switched my major to marketing. That semester I even made the Dean’s list. I was so proud of myself, because I worked hard for it and I made it happen.
    Since switching to the college of business, I have regained my confidence in myself, have learned how to study, and have accepted that grades aren’t everything, but you need to be proud of the work you do. I am now enjoying what I am learning, have become a treasurer of an engineering RSO (I still like the aspect of STEM, even if I can’t do it myself), and have learned some important things about myself from my failures.
    I have learned that failure can lead you down multiple paths and it is up to you to change that path. I was keeping myself on a path that wasn’t right for me and one that lead to nothing but me failing as I was too stubborn to realize that engineering was not my calling. The great Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results” and I honestly believe that me being so persistent about becoming an engineer was leading me down the path of insanity. By taking a step back and analyzing myself and my situation, I learned that this was something that others couldn’t fix for me, rather I had to take the step myself. By stepping out of my comfort zone of STEM and learning from my failures I am finally on the path to becoming the best me I can be.

  5. “A failure to try”
    Gabriel Balasquide
    Junior-Business Economics

    Procrastination is something that has faced everyone at least once in their lives. I of course am no exception. In fact if anything I am an example how procrastinating leads to both failure and missed opportunities. The time that my chronic flaw caused me the greatest failure is three years back when I first started applying to colleges. The reality is the results of my failure I still feel today. This is back when I failed to actually complete all my application and make sure that they were completed in a satisfactory way.
    I used to be a very reserved and laid back person and even the idea of doing work with no direct or immediate guarantee of payoff provided no interest to me. The whole college application process felt more like a chore than the privilege it really was. Thus I had an honest to goodness failure to try as the effort I put towards the whole process was just about the minimum.
    What this lack of trying led into was rampant procrastination. I waited on just about everything from writing the admission essays, to making sure my SAT scores went to the right places, and even to applying for scholarships I was qualified for. The end result of my procrastination was countless rejections and failures. I saw door after door close in my face. I saw scholarships I was more than qualified for ignored just because I missed the deadline. Even the school at the time I most wanted to attend UF waitlisted me because I procrastinated on sending them the right SAT score and they ended up with the one that I scored 250 points less on. I was even close to missing UCF’s application date and almost missed the date but because I missed early application I failed to get the Pegasus Seal scholarship that I qualified for and basically left money on the table.
    Fast forward sometime after that I found myself landing in UCF and because I did the opportunities it offered I made sure to take. I applied myself to learn that in order to succeed you need to try fully and put forward your best effort and not to leave thing to the last minute. I learned to apply as soon as I learned about opportunities which left me to have plenty of time to apply for the UCF Burnett Honors program and the LEAD scholars program.
    It is said that those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. I participated in a process that was uncomfortable for me and now I sit ready to it again as I start applying to Law school and those mistakes I made before will not be happening again. My failure in managing my time is what led to failing to get into more schools and capitalizing on the opportunities I had. This time around though I am preparing before it is early and setting a clear schedule of things to do. Procrastination is a nasty habit and one that you should always look at kicking, and if it had never led to me failing in so many things at ones and this lesson would not have been learned. Ultimately the failure was a blessing because it put me on my path here at UCF and pushed me out of my comfort zone to try harder in things I want and as I gear up to apply for my second round of applications I am left to reflect and in the end learn.

  6. Jocelyn Savignano
    Business Management Major
    “My pleasure”. I say those two words so naturally now after working for a very well known customer service franchise for the past 5 years. I started working for this franchise at the age of 17 and worked my way up to a manager position in about 3 years, becoming the youngest manager in my store. My senior year in high school I was undecided on what career path I wanted to chose, but after starting my job and realizing that I could move up in leadership so quickly, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Business Management has so many aspects to it that I love. I love customer service, and making connections with guests. Through my job, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to gain experience in managing and training a staff that’s currently over 100 employees.
    This year I finally got accepted into the management major here at UCF. I feel so accomplished already being a first generation student, let alone getting into the major that I’m most passionate about.
    With that being said, I’ve faced many situations in my life that have felt like failures, but I’d like to share my most recent one. I mentioned before that I am a manager and that I love not only customer service but also making connections with guest that I handle on a day-to-day basis. It was not until recently that I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be a management major. Why? Well I had an incident with a guest whose name I will not disclose, but basically she got upset at me because I chose to go with my store’s policy instead of what she was asking me for. Now, we all know that in customer service “the customer is always right”. But this specific situation had been going on for a while, and I decided as a manager to finally put a stop on it.
    The result from this was a very long and extensive Facebook post from this woman calling me “an incompetent 18 year old manager who lacks brain cells” and some other degrading comments. The moment I read that post, I felt as if I failed. I thought that I failed not as only a manager, but also as a business management student. Taking all these classes about how to be a successful manager one day, and then reading such a negative comment left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
    I was upset for a while, re-reading the post and thinking to myself, “wow, maybe I shouldn’t do this for the rest of my life.” But with the support of my coworkers, and how quickly my boss let me know he has my back because he knows my work ethic and personal values; I decided to let it go.
    People will always try to bring you down, and it’s easier now that everyone is on social media. What I’ve learned from this is that I need to stay true to myself and not let anyones opinion bring me down or take me off track from reaching my goals. I am passionate about leadership development, training, managing, sales, customer service, and all things that come with management. I will not let one post, or one person decide my future. I am in control, and I will graduate with my degree in management! One day I’ll be able to look back and laugh at that same post that once made me feel as if I failed.

  7. Kirk Carmichael
    Undergraduate Economics Senior
    Attacking the Space

    On a soccer field battered by the scorching summer sun of 2008, I failed to “attack the space” for the first time. With stars like Freddie Adu enjoying national attention, the rush was on for youth soccer clubs everywhere to churn out the next prodigy. The club to which I belonged strived to answer the call, at least until it, along with nearly all youth clubs in the Orlando area, was conquered by soccer franchise juggernaut Orlando City SC. Its goal was simple – thrust as much young talent through the sieves and make money doing it: finding another Freddie Adu was just a bonus.

    The club imported real footballers to instruct its prospects, (you need a British accent to be considered one) and it was under the tutelage of one coach Steven that I would fail to “attack the space” the first, second, millionth, and nth time that summer. We players were united by more than just the desire to improve, to go professional, and to be peers of gods like Messi or CR7. No, the greatest thing we shared in common was our haughty contempt for lowly recreational players. With the brand of cruelty unique to children, we sneered at others whose crimes included misdemeanors like having unappealing cleats or shin guards with an ugly, boxy ankle-guard, and outright ignored those who committed the capital crime of saying “it’s just a game,” or anything along those lines. Coach Steven, a young player himself not long ago, saw us for what we were: arrogant twerps. I won’t claim to know that he was as insufferable as we were in his youth, but that summer and the following years he changed us with the prowess that only personal experience affords.

    Coach Steven, the only British person most of us knew, brimmed with funny sayings and insights into his culture. We put on our boots, not our cleats; learned the river Thames was pronounced “tems” not “thaims,” and most importantly of all, we always, always, always “ATTACKED THE SPACE.” Coach taught us that on the field, regardless of whether a player had a ball or not, he who wasn’t performing some action every second was failing the team. He boiled this concept down to a crude, three word command he repeated ad nauseum: “ATTACK THE SPACE!” Every practice, every game, every tournament – we attacked that space, attacked the hell out of it. And we did it for coach Steven.

    It worked perfectly. Maybe too perfectly, because even today, whenever I catch myself dithering over the next step to take, maybe resolving instead to do nothing, I hear coach Steven reminding me that I’m failing myself and that any action, any action at all, is what I should have been doing two seconds ago. I don’t claim to have the greatest work ethic, but I’d surely be lost without coach reminding me a hundred times every day to, well, you know.

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