05/13/2014 11:52 am ET Updated Jul 13, 2014

All I Need to Know, I Learned When I Failed Out of College

Ragip Candan via Getty Images

I grew up in an Asian-American family where education was everything, or at least it seemed that way. Getting a B was below average, and to make things worse, both of my sisters were honor students. Then comes little Ed, whose passion was sports and wanted nothing to do with school. Don't get me wrong, I worked hard and wanted to make my parents proud, but it just didn't come easy to me. And I just wanted to play sports.

Throughout elementary school, middle school and high school, my grades were just average (below average for my Asian parents). I put in the time and my parents bribed me with Star Wars figures, to no avail.

As I approached high school graduation, my father said, "You're going to study computers in college." I didn't know what I wanted to do, and computers was a good field, so off I went to Rider College (now Rider University). I liked it, but didn't LOVE it. And after 2.5 years, I failed out... TWICE. I failed out once, appealed it, and was reinstated. Then I failed out again, appealed it, and was denied. 

I was a failure.

In sports, I was always driven to come back after failing. Why couldn't I do that in school?

So I needed to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Would I just get a degree anywhere and work in the computer field, or should I follow my passion?

After some soul searching, I decided if I didn't follow my passion, I would regret it. And I didn't want to regret anything at the end of my life.

I began teaching tennis and eventually enrolled in Ferris State University's Marketing and Professional Tennis Management Program.

My grades skyrocketed.

I graduated in 1997, and in 2005, I was named pro of the year for the United States Tennis Association (New Jersey District). I then went on to start my own business, writing books (Game, Set, Life: Peak Performance for Sports and Life), and giving lectures throughout the country. 

So what did I learn from failing out of college?

1. Breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs. What seemed like the worst thing that ever happened to me, turned into the best thing that happened to me. I didn't listen to that little voice inside my head that said I was no good.

2. It's not what happens to you, it's not what happens around you... what really matters is what's happening INSIDE you. Failing out of college cannot define you, unless you let it. We all have negative and insecure thoughts from time to time, but when you don't concern yourself with those thoughts, they have no power over you.

3. Focusing on the past is like driving a car only looking through the rear view mirror. Once I began following my passion, I never looked back. Instead of focusing on where I had been, I focused on where I wanted to go. In sports, the players that focus on the shot that they missed, are not focused on the play/shot at hand. When you just your thoughts come and go, you will naturally be focused on the present moment.

4. When you love what you do, you won't work a day in your life. At Rider, I was just "in" school and I failed out, but when I was at Ferris State, I was "into" school and thrived. When you are "in" school, you are just enrolled. When you are "into" school, you are involved. If you are passionate about your work, it's not work.

5. It's not how you start, it's how you finish. If you were running the New York City Marathon, does it matter how quickly you start? Of course not, it matters how quickly you finish. My academic career didn't start off that well, but I finished college on a high note and went on to become Pro of the Year, an author, speaker, and founder of my own company.

When I was younger, my father used to say, "Ed, you have to work hard." Now that I have bounced back, reached a certain level of success, and put everything into what I do, whenever I see my father, he looks at me and says...

"Ed, don't work so hard."

So yes, I failed out of college. But in sports (and life), some of the most successful people have failed the most. To them it's not failure, it's feedback. Do you want to know the best part of the story?

I go back nearly every year to Rider University as a guest speaker.

A setback can be a setup for a comeback.

Connect with Ed:
Free Peak Performance Course:
Phone: 609.558.1077

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.