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

January 27, 2009
More by this author
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.

Join the Discussion

This article has 74 comments. Post your own now!

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.
sasssgirrrl22 said...
Jan. 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm
luv the writing style. gr8 perspective, also. niice
69blair69 said...
Jan. 6, 2010 at 8:21 pm
the irony is that he placed first in this out of thousands
kathreneforyou said...
Jan. 6, 2010 at 9:35 am
your outlook on your situation indeed makes you triumph as a human being of great understanding--the ultimate area where we must all aim to be at. it was very eye-opening & uplifting, especially because of how you provided a lot of imagery to your readers. thank you so much!
Emmalee This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 5, 2010 at 10:56 am
Wonderful. :)
Meera said...
Jan. 3, 2010 at 5:22 am
Fresh and vivid- it's interesting that this person's "failures" were related to the competition in the first place. Nice!!
Megan Anne S. said...
Jan. 2, 2010 at 10:27 am
Nice job! I love your writing style. You were so vivid, and that is always a great thing to realize when reading a story.
Nickis'sissygirl89 said...
Dec. 31, 2009 at 10:08 pm
Simply incredible. As I was reading, I absorbed the crisp, vivid words that reffered to so many losses, but yet, you win anyway. Just the sound of the intelectual story line was awesome, and the way you put it was complex, so the reading of it made me want more.
The losses count as winning, and yet by winning, you might as well have lost, though the feeling of victory was empowering, the taste of winning tought you nothing. : )
Candace M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm
I really think you captured the essence of the piece. Thanks for the feedback!
Stina said...
Dec. 30, 2009 at 4:00 am
This is a great essay! I enjoyed reading it and the point you have come across is totally brilliant and is something all of us most learn while living in this cruel world. You are definately a talented writer, but something I felt while reading it was that it was a bit cold somehow... very black and white and sort of rehearsed in a way. While learning the art of writing this is something important, but to totally capture an audience you need to be a bit spontaneous too! :D
BroadwayBaby92 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 26, 2009 at 3:42 pm
WOW! That's all I can say. Truely, an amazing article and I loved every bit of it! I think it was really good how you wrote about not winning the contest but how you didn't really "lose". Can't wait to read your articles to come!
Ellie_Michelle said...
Dec. 25, 2009 at 12:57 am
This is a truly well-written and engaging piece of art! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. :)
Candace M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 25, 2009 at 1:33 pm
Thank you so much! Your feedback means a lot!
Hannahnanna said...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 3:32 pm
Love it! I really liked the beginning where you explain that 3rd and 2nd arent you, but you never actually state that 1st isnt either. Please dont ever stop writing.
If you could, please check out some of my work. Thanks!
superspaghetti said...
Dec. 3, 2009 at 11:24 am
I really enjoyed reading your essay. You are a spectacular writer!
Candace M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 3, 2009 at 3:13 pm
That's the first time in a while I've heard that. Now that I'm in college my writing never seems to be good enough. I'm just learning how to take it to the next level. Thanks for the feedback!
Matt said...
Nov. 14, 2009 at 7:10 pm
man this was a good read...
ive read a lot of essays to day and i gotta say this refreshed me....
im sorry you couldn't win the contest but then again im thankful for this essay
i just hope we dont try apply to the same college
Niki replied...
Dec. 1, 2009 at 10:54 pm
You did a wonderful job hooking the reader. Very descriptive language, excellent use of personal knowledge and strengths. I hope you get into the school you are seeking!
Candace M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 2, 2009 at 8:38 am
Thanks! I actually used this last year, and I was accepted to the school of my choice, where I am now!
confusednature said...
Oct. 30, 2009 at 9:19 pm
I have been looking for college essays to give me some ideas for my own. Thank you for this great this piece of work and reminding us that losing isn't the end of the world.
Site Feedback