Hey Everyone! My name is Aaron Anandji and I am an alumnus of the 2019-2020 YELL cohort from Surrey. And I’m here to write to you about failure – and how to overcome it.
Failing is never easy. And that is especially true for young people. We young people have a dearth of experience and that makes the weight of failure far more impactful on our impressionable selves. Moreover, a lot of us have to endure pressure. Whether the gut-wrenching feeling stems from high expectations from your parents, nagging from your teachers, or relentless ambition from within, failure can really weigh you down.
I’ve failed many times. My first large failure was when I failed Computer Studies in grade 8 (totally my fault; I loafed around far too much in that class). This came as a shock to me (and to my immigrant parents). That one really hurt. After all, no one likes failing a class. Then, I failed when I let a perfect score slip in the final round of a big scholastics chess tournament. That one hurt too. Letting a gold medal slip between your fingers really stings – trust me. Finally, I failed in YELL. I assembled an all star team to tackle the Venture Challenge. And we had every bit of confidence our firefighting AI drone technology would blow away the judges; we even had an MVP and validated our Business-to-Government model by reaching out to hundreds of MPs and having a sit-down with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transportation. You’d think we would cruise past the competition with our all-star roster and product. But, spoiler alert, we crashed out of Regionals.
I’ve failed a great deal more than what I’ve listed here. I was rejected from universities, rejected from clubs, rejected from internships, rejected from the Dorm Room Fund (that one REALLY stung), rejected from Front Row Ventures 3 separate times (love both the DRF & FRV teams – no hard feelings 🙂; I’ll probably apply again LOL), and rejected from an innumerable number of other opportunities. Moreover, I will continue to fail; that’s just a part of life.
But, failure is never the end. There is always a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. And one thing I’ve learned throughout navigating this sea of failure is that the small number of wins you achieve offset the failures manifold. So, let’s talk about my successes!
Eventually, I finessed 3rd place U-18 at the Canadian Youth Chess Championship (without winning a game lol – it was totally cheesed). I got into my two top choice programs: UBC Sauder & McGill Desautels (take that grade 8 Computer Studies!). I also founded McGill University’s Venture Capital Club (after failing to get it approved by our student union for 2 painful years). Additionally, I got a job working for a rapidly-scaling startup. Furthermore, I got to judge for the YELL Venture Challenge Semi-Finals! And, I got a contributor role at BetaKit, a well-known Canadian Startup publication! In the grand scheme of things, my past failures amount to minutia. Plus, I’m at a point where I don’t regret my path to where I am today. I failed so that I could succeed in the right places.
Ok, that’s enough sappiness. Now, I’m going to show you how to chase your successes so you don’t get bogged-down in failure.
Cold outreach is your best friend – especially as a student
Cold outreach has netted me some of my most important opportunities and connections. This includes my contributor role at BetaKit (full disclosure, I submitted some pretty fire published writing samples & was in the right place at the right time, so please don’t blow-up BetaKit’s inbox immediately after reading this). I also cold emailed the McGill Tribune a week after my acceptance to McGill and wrote a banger piece before I even took my first college class! Be prepared though. Cold outreach will net you far more failures than successes. But if you can stomach the rejection, you will reap incredible rewards when you succeed.
People love students. We are cute and cuddly teddy bears to them. This holds doubly-true for high school students. Everyone has an innate urge to give-back. My message to you: leverage that! Use your temporary super power to reach out to people you should have no business reaching out to! During the Venture Challenge, I got to correspond with multiple lovely MPs from almost every party! And I even got a warm letter from former Premier Horgan.
The next part of this tip is how to go about doing outreach. The first thing you should do is use your school email. You don’t have to wait for your fancy university email address either. Your high school should provide you with a school district email, and I highly encourage you to use it! By flaunting your status as a high school student, you have the power to melt hearts and bend the mighty to your will (LOL).
Finally, allow me to teach you corporate correspondence etiquette:
- Do check your grammar
- Do spell your name & their name correctly (this is a common mistake, sadly)
- Do use respectful language
- Do be concise
- Do put aside your ego
- Do make your message ultra digestible
- Don’t make your message super wordy – no one wants to read a book in their email inbox
- Don’t beat around the bush – convey your point quickly & without fluff
- Don’t use vulgar & overly casual language
- Don’t ask for anything unreasonable – a coffee chat is a standard ask
- Don’t disrespect their time – they are busier than you
- Don’t treat the recipient like a god either – they are human too
- Don’t create a template – personalize every email
Here is a quick example of a hypothetical email to Elon Musk to demonstrate this all at work!
I was wondering if I could carve out 15 minutes of your day for a quick virtual coffee. I’d love to pick your brain about the latest Neuralink developments and how the technology was just greenlit for human trials!