When I was 11 years old I was at a crossroad in my life: to continue training for U.S. Junior Nationals in figure skating or train to become a professional ballet dancer. Ideally I would have done both and followed in the footsteps of my idol, Katherine Healy, a former professional ballerina and figure skater. I am now in my mid-30's and often look back on this decision and how it shaped my life because the lesson it taught me is my guidepost for success.
My parents sacrificed themselves to make my skating and ballet training schedule work as I was training six hours a day, starting at 4:30 every morning, attending a full school schedule and training again after school. Between ice time, private coach, equipment, competitions and ballet classes, my parents were spending close to $30,000 a year to support my dream. As a result, they could not quit their jobs to homeschool me which would have allowed me to continue both skating and ballet.
Then I hit a growth spurt. I could not land any of my usual jumps as my body readjusted to gravity. I typically placed first in every competition and I placed second to last in my last competition because I fell on every single element. I could not find my balance back. I did not know this at that time, but I never stepped on the ice again.
Around the same time I was accepted into the prestigious Boston Ballet's summer training program. I left for Boston and lived in a dorm with a bunch of other bun-heads. It was like living in an orphanage as we were not allowed to call our parents. One morning I snuck out of the dorm and called my mother from a payphone to tell her to call the ice rink and let the coaching staff know that I would never skate again. Always in the back of my mind were the personal and financial sacrifices my parents were making on my behalf so I knew I would have to make a decision soon enough. I ended up making an imperfect decision based on fear. I was afraid to fall.
I now run a tech start-up and the majority of start-ups fail within the first year. People ask me, "What are you going to do if your company fails?" Sometimes failure is inevitable but to me the only failure you can fully own is when you give up because you were frustrated, tired or scared. If you "fail", look at the bright side -- it's a free education. I have two master's degrees and I have learned more from running and launching a start-up than I did from all of my education. You learn, you iterate, and you try again. The one thing you cannot do is quit because you grew tried, frustrated or scared. That is automatically a failure. Ben Horowitz, general partner of venture capital firm at Andreessen Horowitz said the most difficult skill for a start-up CEO is managing your own psychology. Ben says that what separates mediocre CEOS from great CEOs is that the great ones will say, "I did not quit."
It may sound crazy to some of you that I still hold myself accountable for a decision I made when I was 11 years old when most kids are hanging from trees and riding their bikes but this is a testament to my strong character, even as a child. After skating, I ended up training and performing with several major ballet companies before succumbing to a permanent injury. Ballet was more physically demanding than figure skating for my particular injury. It is this 'what if' that haunts me and so I vowed to never give up again because of fear. You are only a failure if you quit trying -- you fall seven times and get up eight.
Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, my newest idol, is consistent with her advice, "Leave no stone unturned." This has become my new mantra. Leave no stone unturned. Having no regret is what motivates me to keep going when the going gets tough. If I can reach the end of my life and say, "I have no regrets" then I will know I was successful because failure is not necessarily an actual event, it is a state of mind.