Failing Successfully This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 27, 2009
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My day in the sun had arrived – my magnum opus would be revealed. I had just delivered a memorized speech that I had labored over for weeks, and I was about to learn how the panel judged my performance. The polite but sparse audience leaned forward in their folding chairs. A hush fell across the room. The drum rolled (in my mind, anyway).

The contest organizer announced the third-place winner. Alas, the name was not mine. Then he read the second-place winner, and once again it was not me. At last, the moment of truth came. ­Either I was about to bask in the warmth of victory or rue the last several months spent preparing. While neither of these came to pass, my heart felt closer to the latter.

Losing is a part of life, and I have dealt with the emotional baggage that travels shotgun with it on more than one occasion. However, it was an indescribably underwhelming feeling to drive 200 miles round trip, get up obscenely early on a freezing Saturday morning, and yet still finish fourth out of four contestants. After Lincoln lost the 1858 Illinois Senate race, he reportedly said, “I felt like the 12-year-old boy who stubbed his toe. I was too big to cry and it hurt too bad to laugh.” Oh yeah, I could relate.

I had spent many hours in front of a computer and in libraries doing research for the Lincoln Bicentennial Speech Contest. As I pored over several biographies, one notion stood out: Lincoln was handed many sound defeats, but he never allowed them to (permanently) hinder his spirit or ambition. While I believe many history lessons can be applied to modern life, I hadn’t considered “the agony of defeat” as a historically valuable learning experience. I never dreamed I could relate to Lincoln! A president no less, and the greatest at that. I thought “failing ­successfully” was a very appropriate topic, given the many letdowns Lincoln experienced, and so this became the title of my speech.

After not placing in the first year of the speech contest, I really wanted to compete again. Lincoln had been the epitome of persistence, so I was not going to give up on a contest about a historic individual who did not give up! I reworked my speech for the following year, and while I did not come in last, again I did not place. Some days you’re the dog, and some days you’re the hydrant, and this was ­definitely a hydrant day that brought me down for a while.

I couldn’t accept the fact that I had failed twice in something that I had worked so hard on, until I contemplated the individual whom I’d spent so much time learning about. Never mind the lost prize money (ouch, major) and praise (ouch, minor) – I had learned, really learned, about a great man who had experienced failure and disappointment, and had many chances to give up. We remember Lincoln because he didn’t take this route; he didn’t throw lavish pity-parties, and he persevered to ­become, according to many, the greatest American president.

While I did not earn monetary awards as a result of this contest, I did gain a new perspective. Through learning about Lincoln, I discovered that I can fail successfully, and that it is possible to glean applicable wisdom from the lives of those who have come before us. Now, whenever I’m faced with a setback, I remember what Lincoln said after his unsuccessful 1854 Senate race: “The path was worn and slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other out of the way, but I recovered and said to myself, ‘It’s a slip and not a fall.’”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 74 comments. Post your own now!

ewrite04 said...
Jan. 4, 2016 at 2:41 am
This is an extremely well-done essay! Not only did you show perseverance but you showed that you displayed a life lesson and true wisdom. Bravo - I wish you well in your endeavors!
pulledheartstring said...
Mar. 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm
Ah, I like the title. Interesting thought process and flow. I hope that when you do succeed, it is a good one.
fictitious-quandary said...
Feb. 28, 2013 at 10:28 pm
Great Job! :)
peachybeech said...
Apr. 29, 2012 at 9:06 am

I commend you for creating an essay topic out something I would have never even contemplated. I really loved the more tender moments in this piece when you spoke for yourself and revealed your opinion; I wish there were more of them! Great job, nonetheless!


Chloé E. said...
Apr. 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm
Good work! I felt that the jumping around would distract from the main message, but it actualy enhanced the essay. The direct correlations to Lincoln were excellent! I'm glad we can be inspired by our own faults.
inoagoodessaywenic1 said...
Oct. 23, 2011 at 9:21 pm
This was an excellent essay. Although the author never truly succeeded in the judges eyes, she was the true winner by gaining a new perspective on life and what succeeding really means.
Salvan replied...
Jan. 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm
I found that essay really related to me, because i had face that same failure twice! So I would like to congratulate the writer for his writing and encourage him to not stop writing! He has more availabilities on doing essay indeed! Good Luck! ^_^
bexojo replied...
Sept. 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm
A girl wrote this, so "she".
Chase P. said...
Oct. 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm
This essay was great I'm glad that you haven't stopped competing. 
Grania This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

I really like this.

As to what TongueTied said:

It is true that this point about defeat and persistence has been made before. Maybe if you put in sortof a disclaimer somewhere..."There are many axioms that we are taught by our elders; you must be gracious, be persistent, and learn from defeat. But it is only when we have enough life experience to apply them that we learn how true they are." Then you could go on to make your point about persistence and learning from defeat.

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TongueTied said...
Sept. 18, 2011 at 1:39 am
"One original thought is worth a thousand mindless quotings." - Diogenes

I would recommend to use your voice in your writing. Think about how you talk and write that down. It adds character. Also, a more powerful ending might be within reach if it were in your own words.
--------- replied...
Oct. 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm
I appreciate the irony of you using a quote to tell someone thats its better to use your own words
TongueTied replied...
Oct. 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm
I'm glad someone caught that ;)
snowyluv2bfree said...
Aug. 17, 2011 at 1:38 am
the ending is beautiful- connection with lincoln's quote + you- yet it seems to lack a passion as temy says. The deepness isn't there yet..
broderick said...
May 6, 2011 at 4:46 am
u think so?
broderick said...
May 6, 2011 at 4:44 am
this is a very great essay because it touches on a topic that is applicable to the life of every aspiring teen
temy said...
May 6, 2011 at 4:40 am
the essay is quite a very nice-considering the personal character spread all over the essay, but i think more passion as to reach deeply to the reader is quite lacking
samson replied...
May 6, 2011 at 4:48 am
i think this is a one complete essay
mudpuppy said...
Dec. 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm
This article REALLY made my day! :) You don't know how much really this piece means to me! :)
eehearn2011 said...
Oct. 22, 2010 at 1:07 am
loved it :)
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