#47-Coping with Failure and Challenge: How to Build a Million Dollar Business Part Time

By Kathy Korman Frey as part of the Building a Million Dollar Business Part Time series.

Have you ever turned away from a goal, without trying, because you thought you couldn’t do it?


Entrepreneurs fail a little every day.

Entrepreneurs fail a little every day. How? Always experimenting, not knowing if it will work, and having to pivot and get back up again. But what about the BIG ONES? The big, ugly, massive failures that start to sink in? What do you do?

You tell the failure where to stick it.

At least, this has become my philosophy.

In response to a question from one of our seminars, I was reminded of applying to business school…and getting rejected…a lot. Normally, I’d think, “Oh wah wah wah – you’re lucky you can even GO to business school so shut your pie hole and get on with it.” Or, as my son likes to say (after seeing Titanic,) “Shut the hole in your face!”

But this particular failure started to make me look at myself differently. And, in retrospect, I realize that was my biggest failure of all.

…this particular failure started to make me look at myself differently. And, in retrospect, I realize that was my biggest failure of all.

The Story:

When people introduce me – sometimes they will do something I often avoid: They “drop the H-bomb” (Harvard.) However, these people are usually totally unaware of the massive pain (literally) I endured getting in there.

After working about three years post-undergrad, I started applying to business schools. I got rejected from a ton, including Harvard. I really began to feel different about myself on a deep level.

I had never been to an Ivy – or even private school. Why did I think I could do this? Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be part of this world. The stories of the humble beginnings of various family members of mine ran through my mind. I thought, “Maybe I’m just not on the same level as the people who go to these schools. Maybe I am not good enough.”

I was resigned to “not belonging.” I made plans to go to another school. I made a deposit for my tuition and an apartment. That’s when the 180 process began, quite unexpectedly.

Doing the 180.

I found a rejection letter (from a top school) under my bed. A couple of months before, I had read the words “unfortunately” and tossed it. Well, now I read the entire letter. They “strongly encouraged me to reapply.”

Time stopped for a little right then.

My mom wanted to “meet me for lunch and discuss this.” But, I had already made up my mind. I:

  • cancelled my apartment and deposit at the other school,
  • got my old job back,
  • took the GMATs two more times,
  • took five quant classes,
  • re-did my entire application,
  • brushed off snide comments a guy I was dating made to me about “applying somewhere more realistic,”
  • and made one trip to the emergency room (Ouch! Stress hurts!).

Then, one day at work – I think it was March – I called my good friend and neighbor Morry. He went to check my mail on the porch. He saw the letter. “Should I open it?” he said? “Yes!” I yelled, then quickly peeked outside my office making sure no one heard my crazy train moment.

He opened the letter, and read it to me. “Dear Ms. Korman, we are pleased to inform you that….” Morry’s voice got louder and more excited as he read the letter. I held in my scream so I could hear what he was reading. When he was done: Full crazy-train was in motion. I was at my desk, sitting-slash-hopping up and down, then pacing as far as the cord on the phone would let me go. People started looking in. I mouthed to them, “I got into Harvard!”

Time stopped for a little right then, too.

Now don’t get me wrong…I think going to ANY kind of graduate school is a feat, and to be admired. But the point of this is the tremendous “I can’t do this” challenge HBS represented for me. It was so much more than school. It was such a stretch in my mind. Now it was my reality.

Parting Thoughts:

1. Now, my definition of “stretch” and “thinking big” has changed. When I get really focused on something, I think, “Okay, this could actually happen.”

2. In the past, I went for things that were attainable. I would do hard things, but, I always wound up feeling the best about myself after I really stretched. Here is a situation where I really stretched – and failed and fell flat on my face – and then got back up and stretched again. It’s business school. It’s not 100% “real life,” but it taught me some good stuff.

3. Through this, and some other drama and trauma over time, I’ve become less afraid to stretch. Even more important: I actively work against letting external things define or validate me. I came dangerously close to letting a school tell me who I was.

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

                                                                            ~ Japanese Proverb

 Have you ever thought you’re not good enough? Has it kept you from stretching toward a goal?


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