By Saul Sebag
A part of our lives that is larger than most of us care to admit are failures and weaknesses. The paradox is that while failure marks a defeat, it does not mean you are defeated. In fact, one consistent point that our Rare Birds Luminaries and Mentors agree on is that failure and discovering flaws that once held them back has been integral to finding true direction for their overarching purpose. What have we learnt from their failures? It’s not how you’ve failed, but overall how you respond to those failures.
Here are two stories of professional and personal successful-failures that are sung openly by the Rare Birds themselves:
Tales of Rare Bird Struggle number 1: Catriona Wallace Founder of Flamingo, Fifth Quadrant and Ventura
On her own journey as a female entrepreneur Rare Bird Catriona Wallace had to fight and develop herself through unusual routes to get to a point where she could be successful.
Originally Catriona was not interested in business, but it has been her diverse career choices that seem to have set her up with this unique entrepreneurial acumen that makes her who she is today.
Catriona remembers, “25 years ago it wasn’t common for men, let alone women, to become entrepreneurs and I knew I didn’t want to go into a corporate environment. I did what I thought was interesting and became a cop and worked as a detective in Kings Cross and went on to become a prosecutor training people in that branch.”
Despite having to look at other directions due to the limited opportunities for women in business environments, Catriona marks her time with the police force as a great lesson in her life, which she believes is responsible for her now unshakable confidence.
“I had to survive because the system would eat you up and destroy you if you didn’t. I was dealing with murderers, drug addicts, prostitutes, felons of all types, dealing with a corrupt system, the public doesn’t like you, criminals don’t like you and most of the cops are crooked. I did that for four years and at the end of that I was like that’s enough, I don’t need to rebel against what I’m destined for anymore.”
“She left to finish a degree in Economics and English Literature that spiralled into graduate recruitment at a management consultancy. But she became dissatisfied realising the consultancy was charging her services out at $1000 to clientele, while she only received a salary of $25,000.”
Carrying her many varied career, educational and life experiences, Catriona set up her own consultancy practice in her early 20s, walked into Prudential Insurance, and sold her service at $800 a day.
She states, “I was the only person I knew who had done that. My father, who is probably the only mentor I have ever had, was watching over me so I was able to. It was just okay to try and okay to fail. I made a fortune and that’s when I started to do philanthropic stuff, I really gave it all away and essentially continued on that path of building my own practice.”
Catriona Wallace’s winding journey to entrepreneurial success shows that professional difficulties and barriers can lead a person to develop their potentials.
Tales of Rare Bird struggles, number 2: Nahji Chu, Founder and CEO of MissChu
Originally from Laos, Nahji escaped the 1975 Pathet Laos Regime with her immediate family. Not long after, the Australian government made them one of the first Vietnamese/Laotian refugees to settle in Australia.
Nahji recalls the challenges of being culturally different, “Everything’s really polished and shiny to refugees. We were the first Asians in school and no one liked it. All the Australians were like, ‘I hate you’ and they were the looks we would get. It was full on hatred.”
Language was another barrier, “Things like I had to go to the toilet in class but you didn’t know how to say it. I had to learn my ABCs from scratch. Even though I was bright I used to always use cheat cards. I was desperate to catch up with everyone else.”
As she grew up Nahji, like many of us, had issues finding her identity in Australia as a refugee, ‘I have made mistakes but I am very good at coming back to the path. I partied and took drugs but I came back. It’s part of my journey and what makes me the person I am. A lot of Vietnamese women are not allowed to party. It’s not ladylike, it’s disrespectful. Mum would say, “it’s not what we do in our culture.” She was worried about what people were going to say.”
On her subsequent success she stated, “I’m very proud of my culture, very proud to be a Vietnamese refugee who made it in this country. I wanted to say to Australia, ‘I want to celebrate what it is that is Australian – and that is refugees and migrants.”
Proud of her achievements, Nahji has come a long way from being the refugee without a single word of English and selling rice paper rolls. She is proud of aiming high, finding her own way around her challenges and finding a means to represent her culture and make a living in Australia through her MissChu company.
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Failure, as have heard from our Inspiring Rare Birds, is a vital part of finding your identity and entrepreneurial direction. So go and fail, but make sure you do so successfully, free from despair.