David Steinberger | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

David Steinberger

Background:  

ComiXology is a cloud-based digital comics platform that is an Amazon.com subsidiary.  

The Mistake:  

Wallowing in shame and doubt after failing in a professional pursuit.

I came to New York to be a singer. I went to the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard.   

As an artist, if you have talent and are good enough to get into the right schools, you hear things like: "You have such a gift," and it becomes a duty to share this gift with the world. But what you’re not necessarily prepared for when you get out of school is if it doesn’t work out and what a heavy weight your “gift” can carry.  

I spent all this money, I took out all these student loans and I spent all this time, but when I got out of Juilliard, I found it to be a real struggle to do the hard work given my lack of success. The drudgery of it, the non-stop schedules and the pressure of feeling like you aren't fulfilling your potential got me into a place of shame and guilt.  

I couldn't go to the opera without feeling a burning, high-blood pressure kind of shame because I wasn’t performing. It took me a while to pull out of that funk and determine it was OK not to sing. Too long.   

I spent close to five years half-heartedly pursuing a singing career and feeling very badly about myself.

I was 36 when my wife and I decided that I should get my MBA and try to work my way up in the business world. I believe that, had I been able to emotionally accept what I thought was failure, I would have moved on a lot faster.

It is important to be able to fail and have hope when moving on from that failure.  

The Lesson:  

There is no single right path in life. It is important to be able to fail and have hope when moving on from that failure.  

The way I apply it now is twofold: First, try to find ways for employees to safely stretch and fail. Give them chances to learn new skills and take risks. Second, when sometimes we have to make the difficult decision that someone might not be able to meet the challenge of a changing or new role, that’s OK. It’s OK for us to part ways like I parted from professional singing. I have seen employees leave comiXology and find new paths that create a lot of joy and success for themselves.   

Just because you are going in one direction in life and people said you were going to be 'x,' it’s OK if you decide to be 'y' or if you decide to be 'z' later—or if, like in my case, the world tells you what you thought was your dream isn’t going to work out, you don’t spend too much time feeling bad about it—look, I run a comics company!

There is room to go in different directions and there is room to be great at different things during your life and the life of a company. 

Follow David Steinberger on Twitter at @stonemtn

Photo courtesy of David Steinberger 

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