Apps

How a Stranger on a Train Changed My Outlook on Failure

Metro North Railroad is my ticket back to Connecticut from New York City. The ride to New Haven is about 90 minutes, and typically, I spend it working, listening to music, reading or desperately trying to fall asleep.

This past Wednesday, I took the 10:10 PM train home after an all-day company event in midtown. I was ready to crash and mentally preparing myself for the long train ride home.

Boarding Metro North is a strategic endeavor. It’s open seating so you must choose your location wisely. Too far forward or too far back and you’ll have a long walk on the platform. The middle of the train is wise, but there are many bathroom cars.

Finally I found a spot that was relatevely open and bathroom free. I wrestled out of my coat and scarf and threw myself down in a seat.

“Tired?” asked a young, 20-something sitting across from me. He was wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and a mohawk combed to one side.

“Yes.” It was at this moment that I could engage in further conversation or plug in my earbuds and zone out for the next hour and a half.

I travel a lot and one thing I’ve learned is the best way to pass time is to have a good conversation. It beats listening to the same tunes, reading the same books or trying to finish that deck you’ve been working on for hours already.

So I chose to let the conversation continue.

“What were you up to today?” He asked, leaning forward and genuinely interested in my upcoming response.

I told him about my time at the conference, how I work for salesforce.com, and how it was another great event. Then I asked him the same question.

“That’s cool, I know Salesforce since I build apps. I just came from a meeting where we decided to end one of our startups. The app just wasn’t getting the return visits,” he said nonchalantly, “But that’s the life of building apps. Some work, some don’t. You live, learn and move on.”

I learned a lot about the world of building apps on that train ride and while I work for (and have worked for) companies that build them, I’ve always been on the hurry-up-and-wait-and-then-market side.

He then went on to tell me about a few new app ideas running around in his head. He was excited by them all, as if the tough day’s events never occurred. He wanted my reaction, was open to discussion and dove right into the next app idea as we passed town after town.

It wasn’t so much his knowledge of apps that intrigued me during that ride, but his outlook on life. He was hard-working but carefree, smart yet open to learn, funny yet stone-cold serious when it came to his passions.

Here are my takeaways from that experience.

1. Failing is fine

We all work so hard to succeed, but it’s important to recognize the failures. Without that, you can’t grow.

2. Don’t be afraid to talk about failures with complete strangers

In other words, share your failures and much as you share your successes. This transparency and openness will only feed great conversation and ideas.

3. It’s OK to suck at your passion

While this kid has built great apps (he’s created a few that I use), he was OK with the fact that he wasn’t always great at it. He talked about his successful apps as well as the terrible ones as if he was proud of all of it.

4. Look at what’s next

Once you’ve experienced and addressed that failure, it’s time to move on. Look forward to new opportunities and what’s to come. Take your learnings from the past and apply them tomorrow.

I never got his name and we parted quickly once the train doors opened, but I will never forget the great conversation (and blogging is a great way to remember it all). Now I’m ready to address my failures and succeed more than I ever have before. Are you?

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2 thoughts on “How a Stranger on a Train Changed My Outlook on Failure”

  1. A couple things spoke to me about this post. One, I love that you were so willing and open to sharing that time with a total stranger. And two, I love that he, and by extension you, spoke about the good…and the supposed bad…with the same demeanor. Sometimes what we think is bad actually what we need to get to the good. Great insight! Thanks 🙂

    1. Thanks so much. I was amazed at how nonchalant his behavior was. It was the exact opposite of how I would react to the situation, and that tough me something. There was more I needed to learn. Thanks again.

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