A Shameless Confession about Failure: Victor Lal

From founding Canadians for Syria and raising $60,000 by swimming across Lake Ontario to sponsoring multiple Syrian refugee families, to being a past President of Western’s largest general business club PBSN, to winning a seemingly endless list of case competitions, Victor is an incredibly successful guy. To be honest, many of the people I’ve met at Western (including people I look up to myself!) put him on a god-like pedestal. However, I think it’s crucial to ask our role models to step down from their pedestals. That’s why I sat down with Victor and asked him to share the stories that aren’t always shared on social media and LinkedIn.

Here’s what he had to say!

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Baby Victor before the stress of life kicked in 

 

1.Not Getting an Internship in Second Year

After spending my first summer at a corporate job in Toronto,  I realized that it really wasn’t for me. I kind of think I grew up too fast. Even my parents didn’t get it when I spent my summer putting a suit on every day and working at a desk. Especially after coming to Western, I just fit into this mentality of “This is what you’re supposed to do in your first year. You want to get ahead, etc…’. So in second year, I wanted to do something different and I looked into impact investing in the US.  I remember applying to a bunch of places, and it was just a constant battle of reaching out to them and hearing “We’re only looking for graduate students” or “You’re not experienced enough as a second year”.

So I went through the rest of second semester not knowing what I wanted to do, and just hoping that something would come up – and then I really just ran out of time. Nothing better came up and I remember sitting down on May 1st of that year when all of my friends were heading to work, and I didn’t have anything. I remember feeling completely deflated.

However, after that first week of beating myself up, I just chose to do something about it – I decided to do the stuff that I’ve always wanted to do and never had the courage to. That’s when I founded Canadians for Syria. When I think about it, not getting a summer job in second year was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was in that moment that I had to question what I wanted to do with my life, whether I wanted to settle on a corporate job, and whether it was something that I even cared about.

The main thing that distinguished that experience as a productive stress and a growth opportunity, rather than just a failure, was how I chose to react to it.  

 
2.Getting rejected from scholarships

In high school, I remember getting to the final round of the TD scholarship, and then not getting it. That whole experience really made me question why I wanted the things I wanted. At the end of the day, there were lots of other scholarships available, and so things ended up being okay for me financially and I got the help I needed to pay for school. However, I also think that a big part of what I wanted was validation – I wanted something that would open up doors. So when I didn’t get it, I thought that those doors would just be closed forever, that I had missed the opening and that it was a signal that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything great. It took me a while to realize that was a terrible way of looking at it. Realistically, the scholarship was just a sticker, and those same opportunities were always going to be available for me if I was able to work hard enough. Saying that not getting that scholarship mattered was just an excuse.

So in a lot of ways, having that experience before coming into university was an opportunity to check what I valued, and to realize that I wanted the scholarship for the wrong reasons. Even to this day, when I think of TD it still kind of sucks, but in retrospect, it was a huge driver for me in first and second year and made sure that I didn’t take things for granted. I worked harder because I didn’t feel comfortable. I still felt like I had something to prove to myself.

3. Not recognizing what really made me happy

The first two experiences were events, but the last thing I’ll share is less of a direct failure, and more of a failure to understand myself and recognize what I value. Especially over the past two years, I’ve gotten some professional and personal successes. However, I think that one thing I’ve failed to understand is what actually makes me happy.

It’s taken a while, but I’ve realized that succeeding and getting something I want never, ever makes me happy. Finishing the swim, something that I had been working towards for more than a year, left me feeling proud but empty. In the weeks following the swim, I felt like everything I was doing was pointless, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

This was a big problem for me in HBA2, especially since I didn’t have any big goals to chase after. I realized that for my entire university career, and high school too, I had been running away from problems and insecurities by just working. Having time to reflect and listen to my thoughts showed me how much I needed to work on, especially when it came to being happy.

Club positions, recruiting, marks – getting these things won’t make you happy. At least, it didn’t for me. Even larger goals, like biking across half of Canada and swimming across Lake Ontario – that didn’t make me happy. And if things don’t make you happy, what’s the point of doing them?

Even after four years of university, I feel like I have way more questions than answers. However, one thing that I do know is what makes me happy. It’s spending time with and caring for my friends and family. Nothing else even comes close. Nothing else gives me such a deep sense of fulfillment. Nothing else lasts as long.

I still live my life chasing after goals, and doing crazy stuff. I still stress about a lot of stupid stuff (fun fact – I’m a huge procrastinator, looking at my to-do list spikes my blood pressure), but I approach these things with a new lens now. I know that there will be ups and downs, that some things will work out and some won’t. But what I can rely on are the people around me, the people I love more than anything.

As long as they’re there, everything else can’t be that bad. And if they ever have to leave, I’ll make sure that I can keep myself company too.

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