It was nearly 30 years ago that I decided to attend college in the United States, back when I wasn’t yet sure what I wanted to do but still had plenty of youthful energy. Although I had basically settled on the school I wanted to go to, this was back in the times before the Internet, and I actually had no idea what was required or how to go about applying. So I hopped on my bicycle and rode to Kinokuniya, a large bookstore about 20-km away from my home, where I bought a book about study abroad and then proceeded to read it. It seemed you had to take an English test called the TOEFL, but I couldn’t make any sense of the other procedures. I tried calling up the university on the phone, and although the administrator on the other end of the line tried patiently to explain to me, I soon became flustered due to my limited English ability, which I had gained mainly from listening to the NHK public radio series on English conversation. Nevertheless, I couldn’t just wait around, so after a long internal debate I resolved on the strategy of just going to America and working it out directly with the university. The next thing was to come up with the funds, so I took what little cash I had saved from a part time job as a construction laborer in my spare time since my final year of high school, converted it into travelers checks, and boarded a flight with a one-way ticket in hand. Thinking about it now, the one-way ticket must have looked very suspicious, and sure enough I was held up at the security checkpoint upon my arrival and escorted to a separate room. But I had come too far to allow myself to be sent back to Japan. I explained passionately how I intended to study at university in America but couldn’t figure out how to apply, and that I had come to present myself in person. Probably because I was so young, I had full confidence in my plans and I wasn’t nervous or scared about being in the investigation room; I thought they would surely understand if I just spoke sincerely. My American examiners, somewhat taken aback, brought in another officer who spoke Japanese. I repeated the interview in Japanese and the new officer explained my situation to the others, apparently to their satisfaction, and with a resounding thump I received a stamp in my passport saying ‘Prospective Student’ and was permitted to leave the airport without further incident.
That was the beginning of my life in the United States. Not knowing much about anything, I rode my bicycle (which I had brought with me) all over the place, even distances of 50 or 100-km. Whenever I ran out of money I would temporarily return to Japan and work for my friend’s father’s construction company or for Sagawa Express. Having had to do this a number of times, it took me six years instead of the normal four, but I managed to graduate from the university that I had set my sights on, the University of California, Riverside.
Perhaps it was a reaction sparked by the pent-up energy that didn’t have an outlet in my high school years, but no matter what it was that I didn’t know or however many times I failed and was laughed at, I continued to try my best, telling myself, ‘I may not be able to do this right now, but I’m definitely going to figure it out.’ Looking back on things, I think I’ve had many more failures than anyone else I know. But thinking about it positively, I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten to the top of way more ‘mountains’ because of all those failures.
The only way to avoid failure is not to try. But at the same time, the only way to avoid success is also not to try. Reflecting on things now that I am an entrepreneur, I’ve come to believe that what determines someone’s growth is how many failures they’ve racked up and how those failures have affected their experience. If you want to achieve something, but you’re overcome with worry about failing and you don’t do anything, then not even the experience of failure is left to you. It is from the experience of failing that you can consider why you failed and how you can succeed the next time, thinking things through again and again. Without that experience, people can’t grow. The moment that you stop trying, your failure becomes final.
As you mature, and your job becomes second nature, you tend to forget the failures of your younger days and you become quick to blame your subordinates for their own failures. There was a time when I was intolerant of the failures of the people working under me, and even now I become frustrated. However, it is completely natural for up-and-coming employees to fail on occasion, and it is the boss’s job to help cover for those failures. I’m sure there are times when you think, ‘What the xxxx!’ but I’ve come to think that the job of the boss is actually to continually offer encouragement; ‘Let’s figure out how you can do it right next time,’ and ‘This will help you develop yourself.’ As for myself, I want to always be the kind of person who keeps on trying.