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


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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 73 comments. Post your own!

eehearn2011 said...
Oct. 22, 2010 at 1:07 am:
loved it :)
 
dez ali replied...
Nov. 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm :

GREAT post!!!

lol :D

 
Katy Marie replied...
Nov. 5, 2010 at 2:53 pm :

Lol oh Des. Yes she is very good. The only thing she can improve on is grammer lol

anyway whats up?

 
dez ali replied...
Nov. 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm :

:P

lol

not much happinin here....wbu? :p

 

 
Katy Marie replied...
Nov. 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm :
LOL wow kay good writting man
 
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mariel_f said...
Oct. 7, 2010 at 10:19 am:
great essay. i love the connection to lincoln! my college essay is on a similar topic.
 
sggfsgfss replied...
Nov. 23, 2010 at 8:22 am :
lemme holla
 
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AppleSnowman said...
Oct. 1, 2010 at 9:15 am:
I thought that this essay was a really well done essay. Your voice was just right in it. I also like the description you had in the beggining of how you were feeling wile waiting for them to call the first place winner. I just think you did a very good job.
 
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windryder said...
Aug. 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm:
some days your the dog. some days your the hydrant. hahahaha. great article.
 
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Ash_xo said...
Aug. 12, 2010 at 7:40 am:
Great article :) 
 
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nikygal7 said...
Aug. 11, 2010 at 9:03 pm:
this article was awesome!! your writing is so unique and fast paced. loved it :) the writing style, the content, everything. where are you in college now?
 
Candace M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 14, 2010 at 10:55 am :
I am in my second year at Eastern Kentucky University. I'm absolutely loving it!
 
Mohammed H. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 1, 2011 at 1:57 am :
Absolutely stunning. Gorgeous. I loved it.
 
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dtheripper said...
May 24, 2010 at 6:21 pm:
i really liked reading this essay! :)
 
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HeronHero said...
Apr. 24, 2010 at 11:44 pm:
This was very good, I'm preparing a speech/presentation about Abraham Lincoln right now so it was inspiring to read about what you've done, and the lessons you've learned. Thanks :)
 
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Sarbear This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm:
this is amazing.
 
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WritingOutLoud said...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 10:45 pm:

The beginning was so good I almost couldn't bear to read any further.

I think I just might die in jealousy.

Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing (:

 
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Majora said...
Mar. 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm:
"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming."
. --John Wooden
 
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iiiht said...
Mar. 8, 2010 at 11:54 pm:
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. <a href=" h... (more »)
 
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Davidhoebbel said...
Jan. 13, 2010 at 1:32 pm:
This was very good.
 
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DaveyWavey;] said...
Jan. 11, 2010 at 8:17 am:
I thought that this was a wonderful article. The imagry was very vivid. I imagined myself in your place, and I am glad that you won in the end.
 
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