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40 Under 40: The lowest moment in my career

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to heaven—well, heaven in the form of business success—winds through a valley of uncertainty.

Before the young business stars who fill our newest 40 Under 40 constellation earned their place, almost all of them went through turmoil and disappointment. From tragic deaths to unceremonious firings, our honorees have fought through them all and they all share an ability to bounce back from failure.

We asked this year’s crop about the lowest moment in their careers, and they opened up about their biggest trials.

Michelle Dipp, Co-founder and CEO, Ovascience

CAMBRIDGE, MA – OCTOBER 9: Michelle Dipp, the CEO of OvaScience, a fertility-oriented biotech startup, runs the Tuesday company meeting. (Photo by Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“During my pediatrics rotation in South Africa, we had a child die in the waiting room from dehydration. I felt helpless, heartbroken and angry.” —Michelle Dipp, No. 28 on the 40 Under 40

Trevor Nelson, Co-founder and managing partner, Alliance Consumer Growth

“In 2006, I was required to work round the clock, including during a weekend visit from my then-long-distance girlfriend (now wife). She spent the nights on my office floor while I worked.” —Trevor Nelson, No. 35 on the 40 Under 40

Hugo Barra, Vice president, Xiaomi Global

Hugo Barra, product management director of Android, introduces Google’s low-cost computer tablet Nexus 7 during the keynote speech at Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, on June 27, 2012 in San Francisco.

“Getting turned down by Google after one phone interview. I had a second chance five years later.” —Hugo Barra, No. 14 on the 40 Under 40

Jared Kushner, CEO, Kushner Companies

Jared Kushner, who assembled much of Donald Trump’s digital campaign operation, in his office at The New York Observer in 2007.

“Seeing the world fall apart around me after Lehman crashed and having to readjust to the fact that assets were impossible to value.” —Jacob Kushner, No. 25 on the 40 Under 40

Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator

Sam Altman, left, and Alok Deshpande, co-founders of Loopt, use their Loopt Star application at a Starbucks in Palo Alto, Calif., on May 28, 2010. Loopt is one of several services competing as a digital replacement for customer loyalty cards by offering rewards for repeat visits to a business. (Peter DaSilva/The New York Times)

“When I was running my company, we had a financing fall through with just 40 days left of cash in the bank, and it was in the middle of the financial crisis.” —Sam Altman, No. 30 on the 40 Under 40

Parker Conrad, Co-founder and CEO, Zenefits

(NYT14) FRANCISCO, CA — February 8, 2009 — WIKINVEST — From left, Parker Conrad, Jason Young and Michael Sha, talk about their company, Wikinvest at its offices in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. Following the model of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, Wikinvest is building a database of user-generated investment information on popular stocks. (Thor Swift/The New York Times)

“Being fired from the company I co-founded.” —Parker Conrad, No. 20 on the 40 Under 40

Debbie Sterling, Founder and CEO, GoldieBlox

Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, Inc., demonstrates how to play her new toy for girls called Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine at their new office in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. Sterling founded the company last year with a mission to teach young girls basic engineering principles through toys. (AP Photo/Laura A. Oda/Staff)

“Before we launched on Kickstarter, a bunch of amazing volunteers and interns started coming over and helped me build the prototype. We decided to apply to an elite start-up accelerator program, and we worked nights and weekends to prepare for the big interview day. And then I walked into that interview, with this huge prototype under a sheet and realized GoldieBlox was the only physical prototype. Someone commented that it was great that I had brought cookies for everyone. When we got rejected, all the momentum and excitement that had built up started to wane. All of the volunteers started to disperse and go their separate ways. It was a pretty depressing and lonely time, but I knew that this was what I was meant to do with my life, and I somehow found the confidence to charge forward, raise my first round of funding, incorporate the company and get ready to launch on Kickstarter.” —Debbie Sterling, No. 32 on the 40 Under 40

Julian Steinberg, Co-founder and managing partner, Alliance Consumer Growth

“A panic attack in the bathroom on the first day of my two-year investment banking program.” —Julian Steinberg, No. 35 on the 40 Under 40

Vas Narasimhan, Global Head of Development, Novartis Pharmaceuticals

Vas Narasimhan, chief executive officer of Novartis AG vaccines North America, speaks at the U.S.-India Business Council meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 2, 2010. The USIBC, formed in 1975, represents America’s top companies investing in India. Photographer: Joshua Roberts

“After having spent years developing a meningitis vaccine for infants, we were told by the US Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] that the vaccine would not be routinely used. Having met children impacted by the disease and having worked with a team so hard to bring this vaccine forward, it was incredibly disappointing. Despite this setback, we kept going, and today the world has vaccines for children and adults against all five serogroups of meningitis because of our efforts.” —Vas Narasimhan, No. 7 on the 40 Under 40

Karen Fang, Managing director, Bank of America

“In 2008-2009, I had to deal with the financial crisis, coupled with a personal crisis. My father was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer, and he passed away in 2012.” —Karen Fang, No. 17 on the 40 Under 40

Apoorva Mehta, Founder and CEO, Instacart

“After quitting my job at Amazon and moving to San Francisco to start a company, I soon realized that it wasn’t very easy. I started and failed at about 20 different companies over a two year period. Each failure wore away at my confidence and my willpower to continue. I grew increasingly tired and despondent about my ability to build a successful company. Had I failed a few more times, I’m not sure if I would’ve had the tenacity to build Instacart. Thankfully, I got lucky sooner rather than later. Looking back, those failures were an extremely efficient way to learn about business and product strategy, team building, fundraising and more.” —Apoorva Mehta, No. 23 on the 40 Under 40

Michael Dubin, Co-founder and CEO, Dollar Shave Club

“Getting fired three months into a new job after having just moved across the country to California.” —Michael Dubin, No. 34 on the 40 Under 40

Andy Katz-Mayfield, Co-founder and Co-CEO, Harry’s

“Every other day in the early stages of launching Harry’s was the lowest moment of my career. Starting a company is a roller coaster. The good news is that meant every other day was also the highest moment of my career.” —Andy Katz Mayfield, No. 34 on the 40 Under 40

Jason Buechel, EVP and CIO, Whole Foods Market

“During the 2009 downturn, I had to lay off some very talented and hardworking team members. It was some of the hardest decisions and conversations I’ve ever had to do.” —Jason Buechel, No. 11 on the 40 Under 40

Kayvon Beykpour, Co-founder and CEO, Periscope

Kayvon Beykpour, founder and CEO of Periscope, sits in an office of Twitter Germany in Hamburg, Germany, 29 June 2015. Photo by: Christian Charisius/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

“I spent 4 and a half years building my first company (Terriblyclever, which was acquired by a public company) with my co-founder. After we left, that company went through a pretty big transition (after a private equity takeover) and much of what we built (the spirit, product) slowly died, which was very painful to watch.” —Kayvon Beykpour, No. 33 on the 40 Under 40

Melanie Whelan, CEO, SoulCycle

Melanie Whelan, the young CEO of SoulCycle, is steering the company towards its impending IPO.

“When I started at Equinox, my job was VP Business Development – I was responsible to identify new brand extension opportunities for Equinox and also manage their ancillary businesses – PT, Spa and Shop. I was 29 and had neither operational nor P&L experience. After a year, my boss sat me down and said this isn’t working – you’re not having the impact we need. He re-assigned the oversight of the ancillary businesses so I could focus solely on brand extension. I had spent a year building relationships and learning those businesses – and I felt like I was just starting to figure it out – and instead, I felt like a complete failure. That said, I learned a ton from that experience and wouldn’t trade that year for anything; it really laid the foundation for my transition into operations at SoulCycle.” —Melanie Whelan, No. 26 on the 40 Under 40