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There are two to three common questions in most Time4Coffee interviews. Towards the end of each interview, guests are asked to recount a time in their college years or during their career journey when they struggled or failed. How did they persevere? What lesson did they learn? 

Some share about how they felt when starting their careers. A time when failures may have stung a little harder and mistakes seemed bigger than they actually were. In each case, they realized that lessons were learned and these professionals went on to live to fail another day.

They share stories of endurance in which they all made mistakes, but they were never the end of the world. In every case, the lessons they learned ended up sticking with them longer than the consequences of failing. In other words, messing up was worth the experience.

In fact, after a few cycles of failing and learning, most people say they realized that messing up was not as bad as they had originally thought. When starting out our career journeys, failures may appear as big boulders blocking the path to success. But after making it around, or through a few of those obstacles, they said those boulders started to look more like stepping stones.

The last question of each T4C interview asks guests to consider the advice they would give to their younger selves if they could go back to college and do the whole thing over again but based on the wisdom they have now. 

Many give advice like “meet X person sooner” or “study Y in school, because you’ll need it later on.” The messages are framed as things to do, not things to avoid. 

The young professionals know, in hindsight, that they were able to meet all the challenges they faced and pass all the tests that were thrown at them in college. Challenges and tests that seemed a lot scarier back then. There was no way to know for sure that everything was going to turn out ok, and they might not have even been sure they were on the right career path to begin with. This contributes to the fear that everyone experiences when taking their first steps — and first missteps — in their career. I’ve absolutely felt it already in my early professional experiences, it sucks.

Still, listening to the stories of so many people who went through it and made it out the other end is comforting. It lets me know that there’s no failure I can’t learn from. It reminds me that I can use challenges as stepping stones to somewhere better. Best of all, it reminds me that I’m on the right path, because this path is completely, wonderfully, chaotically mine and it’s leading somewhere wonderful.

“I would try to live a little more,” said Jennifer Garibay, now a program manager at Google, in her Time4Coffee interview. “I was so stressed about everything… and it’s so understandable.” Her final piece of advice to her college self was to simply enjoy the constant journey of life.

I believe we don’t need time machines to help us fast forward to our future in order to protect ourselves today.  As these professionals, young and old, share at the end of their T4C interviews, every experience on our path  – good or bad – turns out to be a good one. So, instead of warnings, they give messages of encouragement to their past selves and up and coming professionals, everywhere.

We do actually get to meet our future selves, anyway. One day, we’ll look in the mirror and see them, smiling back at us. They’ll thank us for making the trek, navigating the fear and learning from the rough parts.

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