My father handed me a gift. It was packaged in an unassuming brown parcel, scrawled with Chinese writing and import stamps.
As I tore away the heavy-duty tape and plastic wrapping, I uncovered a small and colorful object. It wasn't the latest iPhone or the next big thing, but a fish -- a cotton replica of the Koi fish. In Chinese and Japanese culture, it is known as a symbol for perseverance in adversity. That is because they are known to swim across currents and upstream.
Just like that fish, our life will map the changing currents. From the tenderness of youth right through to the ripeness of retirement, everyone will face the inevitable highs and lows of their career. Through it all though, it is one's attitude and reaction to failure that will mould success.
Failure was an essential part of my story. As a wide-eyed student, I set my sights on an internship at one of the world's largest insurance brokers. During the span of six months, I passed through each interview and soon found myself at the last hurdle -- the final interview. Just 16 other candidates stood between me and one of those four final positions. To fail now would be like getting to the World Cup Finals, only to lose on penalties.
And I did that just that. Sat in a university lecture, my phone pinged with a soul-crushing email. "Thank you for taking the time to interview with us. It is with regret-¦" was the pretext that sealed my fate.
But it was during that lecture that I learnt one of my most important lessons at university. It wasn't from the teacher, but rather instead from that email. Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland in 1314, told his men: "If at first you don't succeed try, try and try again." And that's what I did.
I phoned the person who conducted one of my many interviews at the firm. I pleaded, despaired and even offered to work for free -- I just needed my first break. Rejection became a rite of passage at university. But it was at this point that things began to change. She agreed and I got my internship. Through this, I was buoyed by a message of perseverance and of relentless courage to keep going.
As a mentor to young people now, I ground my advice in this. Enjoy the process of failure. It helps to re-define, re-inspire and re-direct your ambitions. For me, it was the barometer of my will to succeed -- to continue to pursue even in the face of rejection. It allowed me to question my approach and how I could do things differently. As motivation might begin to dwindle with your CII exams, or if another rejection litters your inbox, remember to appreciate the value of failure. Just like the Koi fish -- don't allow the changing currents to stifle your ambition.
Alex Dooler is graduate surety underwriter at AIG