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Calvin Zheng: How to Fail Effectively

Just don’t fail in the first place! Ha!

Just kidding. It’ll (unfortunately) inevitably happen to everyone at some point, and it’s never going to be a good feeling (unless you’re into masochism… but for the sake of my narrative, let’s assume you’re not).

What now? Your dreams, confidence, passion for what you do… all shattered. Do you mope around in bed for a few days, eat a whole pizza by yourself, and startle your roommates because they can hear you screaming into your pillow?

Yes. You can do all of that. It’s pointless to pretend that your feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and/or despair aren’t real; you feel this way because you care about what you’re doing. I don’t blame you for ordering a second pizza immediately after you finish your first.

But please don’t order a third pizza.

You’re allowed to mope for a few days, and let yourself calm down… but you still care about whatever you’re doing, don’t you? It’s time to get back to work so that you can find that elusive thing called “success” - whatever it means to you.

Let me tell you my tale, so that you don’t think I’m just an armchair advice-giver.

About a year ago, October 2016 to be precise, it was time for me and the rest of my classmates to apply for our third year internship. I thought for sure that I’d be a top pick amongst my year; I had (what I thought were) solid projects, a super slick (but not really) portfolio that I coded by hand, and too much self-confidence.

“I’ll only apply to Amazon and Facebook because I’m the best. I’ll get it for sure!”

I didn’t get it. Nope. Not even an interview.

“What the hell? Why? I have the best projects… all masterpieces… AND I hand-coded my website? Big corporations are blind!”

My denial lasted for about 3 days, and yes, I did eat an entire pizza by myself in one sitting. I was so angry; how dare these hiring managers not see my genius and work ethic!

It’s difficult to look at yourself critically in the midst of rejection, especially if you presented your best effort, but you’d be dumb if you let your pride stop you from achieving your goals. That’s like tripping over your own feet and then blaming the shoe manufacturer for your lack of walking skills. I took a few days to calm down, and decided to analyze my situation. Maybe my portfolio was hot garbage - it took 15 seconds to load, and even after compressing my animated gifs until they looked like shit, it would STILL take 5 seconds. The whole thing was a usability nightmare.

Maybe my projects really didn’t showcase my design skills properly - all three projects were web dev projects. I’m pretty sure if they were hiring designers, they’d want a dedicated designer, not a half-assed designer who also does web dev.

Maybe I should have applied to more jobs - even if I still didn’t get a single interview, there wouldn’t be that feeling of regret where I knew I didn’t do everything in my power to land an internship. My mom called me stupid and told me that I really wasn’t in a position to be picky, and she’s right.

And maybe… just maybe, I had no skills to back up my talk.


Couple that with the fact that you’ve realized that all your peers are slowly moving farther and farther away from you in terms of career development, and you’ve got yourself a case for a self-imposed mid-degree crisis.

Failure is a dangerous thing; you can either take those negative feelings and spiral into oblivion and end up in rock bottom, or you could channel that negative energy into motivation to improve yourself. Personally, I hate the feeling of being inadequate (cue Asian stereotypes about your parents comparing to other kids), so I decided to fix myself.

For me, I started a daily design challenge where I make a new thing a day and post it onto Instagram to improve my technical skills, and I also made the decision to defer graduation for a year so that I can take that time to do more internships and learn as much as I can from experienced designers while working on real projects.

Am I where I want to be yet?

I don’t think so. I actually recently got rejected by Facebook for a summer internship, after having gone through all three rounds of interviews. I really thought I had made it this time around, but I wasn’t quite ready for that opportunity.

I’m really frustrated, and bummed out. But it’s okay.

Embracing failure is a good thing, because it forces you to slow down, take a step back, look at where you’re lacking, and improve it. Failure doesn’t mean “no”, it just means “try again later”.

Everything is going to be okay. Huge props for having the courage to try, and to follow your passions; as long as you put in the work, you’ll get there.


Calvin Zheng, GBDA '18

  • Student, Product Design Intern @ Symbility Intersect

Calvin is currently taking a one-year hiatus from GBDA to do some soul-searching, which is doing internships in design to try and figure out if this is really the path he wants to take. Right now, he works as a Product Design Intern, a Toronto-based agency that specializes in web, mobile, and IoT solutions for its clients.

In his free time, Calvin likes to eat, design, play video games, and stare at expensive sports cars driving by while thinking to himself “that will be me one day except I’ll be 10 years younger than that guy and have a full head of hair”. For Calvin, the grind never stops, except for when he falls asleep while doing work because he’s trying to keep the grind going. (Don’t do this, it’s not good for you.)

All jokes aside, feel free to connect with him on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook, where he’ll be happy to talk about design while trying to sneak you unnecessary information about cars and mechanical keyboards.

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