Paul Kanarek on London and Learning from Failure

Paul Kanarek tells us about his expulsion from UCLA (and his accompanying humbling in its wake), the cultural amalgam that is London, and the things he'd like to be able to learn from himself.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

You mean other than myself? I would think it would be endlessly fascinating, in a mobius strip type of way, to learn from me. But if I have to reach outside of my own-ness, then I'd want a teacher who could help me understand the basis of happiness with respect to material goods and societal placement. As I become more firmly ensconced in middle age, spiritual fulfillment has become increasingly relevant, and it would almost certainly be easier to get there with an expert's help. Bring on the Dalai Lama, please.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

Assume intelligence and effort in others. My father taught me this — relentlessly — and it is why I have been successful not only in business terms, but also in weaving a cohort of remarkable women and men as long-term parts of my life.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

I'd send her to my birth city, London. The language is manageable, and it's probably the world's biggest ethnic melting pot, even more so than New York City. There's an amalgam of culture, good food, better drink, and entertainment that would not only serve to broaden one's worldview but also galvanize the desire to travel.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

My freshman year GPA at UCLA was 0.86 and I was expelled. I had to go to community college for two years to earn my way back into UCLA, and I think I learned almost all of my painful life lessons during this period. I had to deal with the highly visible marks of my failure as I returned, metaphorical tail tucked between my legs, to my hometown. I had to apologize to the friends I had left behind and utterly ignored when I left for college, and was reminded how powerful unvarnished support is. I was reminded that results are accompanied by hard work, and my time at Mt. San Antonio College allowed me to hone my speaking, writing, and presentation skills. I am not the person I am today without having stepped into the giant ditch o' failure in 1978.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I love to teach. Always have. The connection between student and instructor is powerful, intoxicating, rewarding, and joyful. I went into The Princeton Review because I could teach unconstrained by the rules and norms of "regular" school, and this freed me. It's different in that I never thought that the profession could hold me for so long and continue to fill me up.

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