If you’re reading this, it means that I’ve already been fired.
The beginning of the end came when I applied to be a contestant for the latest season of “The Apprentice.” For those who don’t know, “The Apprentice” is a reality-TV series that pits sixteen contestants against one another in a string of business challenges. Needless to say, corporate skills play a huge role in one’s success on the show.
I have zero corporate experience.
Yes, yes, I have almost a decade of experience in martial arts. I am also the founder of my own little sports events company, both of which helped me out on the show, since “The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition” is the first Apprentice in history to feature physical tasks on top of the traditional business challenges.
But The Apprentice is still The Apprentice. Corporate pitches still feature heavily on the show, and that was where I floundered.
But here’s the interesting thing.
If I had used my lack of experience as an excuse to not submit my application, I wouldn’t even be on the show in the first place. I would, instead, be a spectator watching the other contestants battle it out on the big screen, an observer instead of a participant. I would be forever dimly jealous of them, of whoever took my place, and throughout it all, I would be thinking the two most regretful words a person can think — throughout it all, I would be thinking “what if.”
I knew, when I submitted my application, that there was a good chance I would fail to be even selected for the show. When I passed three grueling interviews to be one of the sixteen vaunted contestants, I knew there was an even better chance I would leave the show not as the winner, but with my head on the chopping block, fired for the world to see.
I decided to give it my best shot regardless.
As Singaporeans, we were brought up to think of failure as something that is unacceptable. That to fail is to lose, to be somehow lesser. Perhaps it is due to our strict and ruthlessly competitive school system, perhaps it is owing to our parents and their parenting style, best described as equal parts sensible and scared. One thing is for sure; by the time we reach the age of reason, most of us have a deep, almost primal fear of failure inculcated root-and-stem into our system.
This is most unfortunate, because the truth is failure, as corny as it sounds, is the mother of success.
In order to do exceptional things, you have to be first willing to look like a fool. See, the very nature of being a trailblazer means you have to step out of the well-known light of your comfort zone and into the dim unknown. It means you have to try new, never-before-done things — and doing new things often means you end up messing up, flopping and failing, often quite dramatically.
This failure comes in many forms. It may look like getting chewed out by Chatri in the boardroom, not once but twice. It may look like being a writer but messing up your team’s copywriting. And in the age of the internet, these failures won’t be forgotten. They will be milked and frozen, your worst moments immortalized on the big screen for the world to see.
Failing also means that you will attract a fair share of mockery.
Whenever you do something against-the-grain, especially in a conservative society like ours, you will attract your fair share of detractors, crabs in the bucket snipping and sniping, trying to pull you down with word and deed alike.
You must not let them.
To allow your detractors to get the best of you is to rob the world of your gift. Think about it: if the Wright brothers gave up when prominent folks mocked them, we wouldn’t have airplanes today. If Fleming stopped his research when his fellow doctors laughed, we wouldn’t have penicillin, the drug that helped save millions upon millions of lives. And if Steve Jobs quit when he got fired from the company that he helped build, I wouldn’t be typing this to you now on my trusty little iPhone.
People like to poke fun of the mavericks, the outsiders and the stalwarts, when funnily enough, it is often these very people who end up propelling the human race forwards.
I have said a lot for somebody who got ferociously fired fast (in his hometown, no less) so I shall wrap things up with the one thing I came here to say: Give yourself permission to mess up, permission to flop, and permission to fail. Failing is not the end of the world.
Failure— even a failure as humiliating as being canned on national TV, is not only okay. It is something to be proud of. It is a sign that you genuinely tried. It means that you were an active risk-taking participant of life rather than a dull, passive observer. It means you lived.
Remember, if you want to do something truly extraordinary with your life, it is not only okay to fail.
It is necessary.
Alvin “The Man In The Arena” Ang