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Failures are seeds that let others grow themselves: A heroic story of burning passion that ended up as a 3 acres bush fire at Stanford

Failures are seeds that let others grow themselves: A heroic story of burning passion that ended up as a 3 acres bush fire at Stanford

This article was based on Episode # 20: Mark Jacobson’s Inspirational Story brought here for us today by Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!


“There’s plenty of little wins along the way that you can kind of cherish and enjoy and just watch those seeds being planted and bloom in ways you never expected.” – Mark Jacobson


Our client-horror stories just kept on getting more interesting! Previously, we talked all about music, and this one would be much more exciting. There are still valuable lessons in the article, so we will not take this introduction too long. 

Mark Jacobson is a guy who likes to multi-task because besides being an entrepreneur, he was also an airforce officer and is still on active duty. While Mark Jacobson was serving his country, he did many entrepreneurial things, such as selling his book entitled “Eating Glass: The Inner Journey Through Failure and Renewal.” For this article, we are going to look at the reason behind the book that Mark created.

The story begins back in 2013 when Mark was a C-17 pilot in the air force. Mark was also a Middle East Specialist, and he spent a couple of years learning Arabic and was living in Jordan. He earned a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and has always had an academic and personal interest in civil wars. 

So, during those years of service, Mark and his team were the cargo planes tasked to transport people located in hot war zones and transfer them to safer locations. Mark was assigned to Afghanistan, and it was a brutal year for the people living in that country because of the Syrian civil war. 

The regime attacked its own people, and during those moments, Mark was in Turkey doing his research on Syrian refugees. The Syrian government started to deprive their own people of food and starve entire cities as their means of breaking their will. Mark was interviewing people who had escaped the city and survived the siege, and they said that their families and loved ones were still trapped inside with no food to eat. 

Most of the people that Mark interviewed all asked the same question; “Why doesn’t the United States go in and deliver aid?” Mark told them that the US couldn’t intervene that easily and that the air force can’t just go wherever they want within the property of Syria to get everyone out because Syria is typically a hot war zone during that time. If Mark had used his cargo plane and flown within that territory, the military would have shot down his plane.

This was Mark’s honest answer, but because of that question, it made him think that surely there is a way to deliver some aid and basic necessities to the besieged areas in Syria. The 21st century must have some kind of technology that might help solve this problem peacefully. 

After that interview, Mark wasn’t at peace because, as someone who had studied civil wars, a Middle East specialist, and has learned Arabic, he felt obliged to help. This was the birth of Mark’s amazing idea. After having countless thoughts, Mark finally had a brilliant idea to use large numbers of small drones to swarm small aid packets to the Syrian people. The idea was to transform the drones into a conveyor belt that would deliver parcels with food, medicine, and other things needed to feed an entire city. 

The idea was born, and Mark spent a couple of years building a non-profit company to bring the concept to life. Mark used his own resources and was bootstrapping his own money for that idea to come true. Mark built his own garage and bought some appliances. He even studied how radio-controlled airplanes worked and had dissected drones to understand their parts. Mark also reached into his networks to look for volunteers willing to help his cause. Mark was fortunate because several volunteered and were willing to use their money for his cause. 

Mark and his volunteers started to build drones that could fly hundreds of kilometers delivering packages. Mark successfully built several drones, and after that, they immediately held a major event in California where they trained Syrian Iraqi refugees how to operate the drones they built. There were also families at that event who pledged to create parachutes so that the parcel could be dropped from the sky.

Everything was going well, and Mark didn’t expect his idea to become huge. People are starting to contribute to the cause, and it made Mark feel happy. After that event, Mark’s next step was to introduce their idea to Turkey. Turkey is adjacent to Syria, so doing a demo and demonstrating their drones would help their success. Mark just needs legal permission from the government of Turkey to send in their first drones over the border and begin a trial. Mark had been through many political battles, so he wouldn’t give up and would get that legal permission from Turkey no matter what.

But as they were working on the process of getting legal permission, they were getting badly burned out because, after that major event in California, Mark and his team of volunteers had already run out of resources. They were literally broke, and they needed some money to continue their project. God was still in their favor that time because when they were about to be bankrupt, Mark received a call for a BBC documentary. 

Mark thought of using this opportunity to raise some money. Mark also took advantage of the opportunity and planned to do a crowdfunding campaign and launch it simultaneously. But getting money wasn’t only Mark’s goal. He was also riding the publicity wave to get people and political support. Mark bet everything on that interview because it was their make-or-break plan.

Mark was very nervous, but he had no choice but to push through with the interview and force his way out of the pressure he was in. The day of the event came, and Mark did his best to make his plan successful. BBC was interviewing Mark, and the other volunteers proceeded to organize the crowdfunding campaign. Both the volunteers and Mark did great because, at the end of that day, they could gather the funds they needed, and Mark was able to grab political attention from all over the world. 

However, just as Mark would be back on his feet again, the wheels started to come off one by one. Mark’s volunteers were all burned out. 

Mark was looking for some encouragement to continue forward. The lead engineer had already expended a lot of their resources. Mark’s small team was composed of Stanford students because while all of those were happening, Mark was still earning his Ph.D. at Stanford. The war also got considerably worse because of the rise of the Islamic State, which became the cause of the changing political dynamics. Turkey also got increasingly dangerous, and people couldn’t easily go there anymore. 

The last strike that deliberately ended their project was during July where Mark and his team accidentally crashed a drone into a dry lake called Lake Lagunita in Stanford. The crash caused a large bush fire that burned three acres of Stanford. The fire didn’t only burn the bushes and trees in Stanford, but also Mark’s hopes and dreams. 

Their back was broken, and Mark’s volunteers had lost hope as well. They talked and decided that it wasn’t going to work. The crowdfunding money was sitting in their bank accounts, and all the promises they made will also become ashes from that fire incident. As their leader, Mark had no idea what he would do to get back up from that incident. He was also stressed and burned out because of the things that he did. He was also the one who got affected the most because he gave all of his time, money, and energy to make the project work.

Mark ended the organization and shut down all the further movements that they planned. Mark moved on and continued serving the war as a C-17 pilot. However, he didn’t recover yet from that experience. Thus he created the book entitled “Eating Glass: The Inner Journey Through Failure and Renewal.” The book’s main point is what would entrepreneurs do if they too experienced Mark’s failure where you have put your all into a project, and it failed miserably.

This book would be relatable to every entrepreneur because if you dedicate yourself to the business industry, having a failed project will eventually happen to you. Mark also created this book to encourage people to share their failures and let it all out. Most business people would hide their failures and wear a happy mask all the time because confidence is everything when it comes to business. Entrepreneurs would even store that failure to themselves for years without sharing it with anyone, which is why many people in the business industry have post-traumatic stress syndrome. 

1. Don’t be consumed by your failure. Reach out, open up, and face your problems.

If you keep bottling your problems and pretend that you are happy, it will eventually eat you up and become a shadow that will always haunt you. This shadow will affect not just your business or personal life but also the people surrounding you. You will become aggressive and tend to have trust issues even with your closest links. 

Your problems will also affect your performance, especially your leadership style. Your friends may be able to open your eyes and help you see the bigger picture if you face your problems head-on and let it all out. If you decide to confront your failures, you will be able to see them from a different perspective, and instead of seeing them as a failure, you will see them as a lesson. 

You can actually grow and develop to become a different person because of bad experiences. Problems don’t only bring sadness into your life because when you learn how to deal with them, you will be able to look at them as practical lessons that would help you understand yourself even more and strengthen your will. 

2. Be careful with moonshot projects.

In a technology context, a moonshot project is an ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term profitability or benefit and, perhaps, without a full investigation of potential risks and benefits. Just like Mark’s project, he didn’t have a real plan when his project went big because his idea was supposed to be handed to the military or suggested to bigger profitable companies who are actually capable of making the projects come true. 

The companies could merge to make the idea come true, like a drone company and a company that creates medicine could agree to make the project work. Mark didn’t expect that his idea would bloom because he lacked research and planning. This is why if you are planning to create a moonshot project, don’t bet everything you have. 

It is simple logic but contradictory to the famous businessman’s motto, “Take risks.” Betting and accepting risks is one thing, but putting everything you have on an ambitious project with no certainty of becoming successful needs to be thought of carefully. 

Also, most moonshot projects are subjective, and it is often fueled with the person’s passion, energy, and time. This is why if the moonshot project fails, the person who thought of it will become wrapped up with sadness and stress. 

However, you can’t really pursue a moonshot any other way besides putting all your efforts into making it successful. But still, it isn’t an excuse to go reckless for a project and spend everything you have without a backup plan.

3. Set healthy boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an important lesson to anyone doing entrepreneurial work because sometimes when working in the business industry, it is very easy to discount health. When you are starting a business, you have to sacrifice a little bit to reap good benefits. But how do you balance the two? How do you give your all while setting up healthy boundaries? 

The answer is simple: even if you set your heart and mind to your work, don’t forget to take care of yourself. 

When you are in the middle of something great, you tend to think like you are strong and have a lot of energy, even if in reality, you lack food or sleep. That’s where it gets dangerous because when you experience a drawback in your project, the adrenaline will start to fade, and you will feel these physical restraints bit by bit.

When you are in the middle of something, it’s very easy to let healthy habits slip through your day-to-day routine, like physical exercise, sleep, and nutrition. When you’re in the hot seat, you make excuses for not having time to eat or sleep. You will reason out that you need to do this first before eating. You need to finish that first before resting. And often, entrepreneurs have very high energy, and Mark could attest to that. 

Mark said that while he was working on his moonshot project, he felt strong and felt capable. Mark had never felt so alive because he was leading this great humanitarian project. He was able to get by on not enough sleep and was able to work from dawn till dusk while taking care of his family and continued his obligation as a student at Stanford. Mark convinced himself that it was all according to plan. He also told himself that he doesn’t need these other healthy habits and boundaries. 

But regrets always come last because when Mark’s project failed miserably, he became ill and weak for several months. So to balance work and your health, set boundaries and always make sure that you have a morning routine. 

4. Have a morning and night routine.

It is essential to start and end your day with a healthy routine to have some sort of health boundary between your personal life and your job. 

For example, having a good morning routine is healthy for you because having some alone time to allow peace of mind before engaging in your busy life makes you feel calm and relaxed. Also, before your day ends, make sure you have a good and healthy night routine. You must spend 30 minutes unwinding and shut down your work life, or you will end up like Mark. 

This one time, Mark was about to go to sleep, but he made the terrible mistake of checking his email before deciding to sleep. Because of that, he received tons of emails that didn’t allow him to sleep peacefully during that night. Make sure to unwind and turn everything off before you sleep. Surely your problem could wait until your usual working hours, after your morning routine, of course. 

Having a morning and night routine can also improve your sense of leadership. A leader knows how to respect their private time and doesn’t throw things at his employees at nine o’clock in the evening. A good leader also allows his workers to take a weekend off to unwind and relax. 

If you don’t allow yourself to unwind and relax, then as a leader, you will also inhibit that mindset and won’t allow your employees to relax as well. If you don’t have a night routine and continue to work until dawn, you will also let your employees work up until dawn. If you work on Saturdays and Sundays, you will also let your employees work even on weekends, which is unhealthy and doesn’t show good leadership. 

If you as a leader set and respect healthy boundaries, you will have a much healthier team full of energy and willingness to work their asses off during the working hours. They would be eager to work to repay your kindness, and that entails good leadership. 

5. Have a ritual that allows you to disconnect

A ritual is something that you do before you decide to unwind and shut down. For example, your ritual is to do a 30-minute drum session and, after that, a 30-minute bathtub before going to bed. 

Now, if you do this ritual every day, it will become your form of catharsis. No matter how important your work is or how crazy things get, if it has already passed your working time, your body will unconsciously stop at exactly 8:00 to do your ritual. This will help you disconnect and control yourself from being overworked. 

Now having a ritual is not that easy. You really have to commit yourself to it. Rituals are powerful because even if there is so much pressure, your body will force you to disconnect once you have perfectly mastered your ritual. Having a “disconnect” routine might have saved Mark’s career. If Mark had a habit, he would have calmed down when things were not heading in his direction.

6. Consider your intuitions while making a decision

Mark had a strong intuition on that project that they were moving too fast. But he ignored his intuition because of the hype that the people and supporters gave. The people around Mark kept on saying that it was the best idea. They were going to save Syrian lives and would become heroes and much more encouragement. The supporters told Mark that everything was going great and there was no time to slow down. 

Mark was so confused that he questioned who to follow; his intuition or the people around him? He ended up following his supporter’s sentiments and disregarded his intuition, which he regretted later on. Mark should have considered his instincts while deciding not to treat it like a dilemma on which decision he should follow.

It’s not that people’s intuitions are always right. There are moments where some people have better instincts than you, or your intuition is stronger and more accurate than others. However, if the person is very influential to you, there would be a tendency that you will follow them rather than your own intuition. 

For instance, in Mark’s case, he idolized Peter Diamandis, who has a motto to “Be bold.”  When you idolize an influential person, you tend to disregard your own intuition and follow that person. Even if Mark’s intuition says to quit while he is ahead and to back down, Peter’s motto, “Be bold,” would tell him otherwise. However, it would be best if you put into mind that people with influence aren’t right all the time. I mean, there is a time to be bold, and there are times for tranquility as well.

Here is where knowledge and wisdom come in. Knowledge helps you understand and absorb all these famous and smart ironic pieces of advice like “Never give up” or “Be bold” and also advises like “Learn when to quit” or “Learn how to give up.” Wisdom tells you when to apply these famous lines that would help you deal with your situation.

Now, if we apply the main message of Mark’s book into his story, there is success behind his failure. Mark may not have succeeded in his project and failed to deliver aid in Syria, but he managed to ignite a conversation and movement to help Syria. He ignited an idea on how to use humanitarian drones in conflict zones, and this idea was discussed in UN meetings. 

A lot of people also made Mark’s idea their inspiration to do something for Syria. There was a volunteer who was now organizing her cargo flights to get trapped Afghans out of Afghanistan. Mark might have failed, but he succeeded in spreading some seeds that would grow to become wonderful trees of hope and salvation. As Mark stated, “There’s plenty of little wins along the way that you can kind of cherish and enjoy and just watch those seeds being planted and bloom in ways you never expected.” 

7. Don’t push through bigger and long-term projects if you know sustainability would be a problem.

If you think that sustainability is impossible and you can’t commit to finishing the project, then don’t give everything anymore. This was also one of Mark’s huge mistakes because he knew from the moment his idea became more extensive that sustainability would become his problem. Mark knew he only had three years to study at Stanford, and after that, he would go back and serve the air force again. 

Mark planned to transition his idea to someone to achieve sustainability because he only had a maximum of 3 years to dedicate to that project. If everything went well and they were about to launch the project in 3 years but still couldn’t look for someone who would continue the project, Mark would be torn between serving back to the air force or continuing his non-profitable work. 

So if you don’t have a business plan and sustainability is not guaranteed, you should end your idea for the good of everyone that is involved. Now, if we go back, Mark stated that the project was meant to be submitted to the military, and they would be the ones to continue the work. But it seems like the military wasn’t interested enough. However, if they did, the idea would have helped them save millions of lives.

That’s about the end of Mark’s client-horror story. The story is specifically for those people who want to lead a moonshot project. By all means, do everything to make your ideas come true. However, you must consider the lessons found in this article if you want to push through with it. Have a morning and night routine, create healthy boundaries, learn how to unwind, and many more. Be sure to follow these lessons, or you will end up having your own version of a client-horror story.

This article was based on Episode # 20: Mark Jacobson’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!