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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!

algie said...
Oct. 30, 2009 at 8:23 pm:
I didn't think it was as good as everyone is saying. The quotes didn't add much to your piece, and I don't think you showed anything about yourself other than the fact that you lose
 
Candace M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 31, 2009 at 11:01 pm :
Thanks for the feedback. What I wanted to show about myself is that even though, I lost, I did not give up, even though it would have been the easy way out. Since I was paralleling Lincoln's life with my own, I thought the quotes were a nice touch, but not altogether neccessary. I believe that this piece demonstrates my tenacity. It also shows that I did not allow losing to get in the way of a learning moment.
 
TragicMoose replied...
Nov. 29, 2009 at 8:06 pm :
I disagree with algie completely. This was superb, and without the quotes, this piece loses some of its value.
 
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PurpleMidnight said...
Oct. 21, 2009 at 4:03 pm:
Wow! This piece is unbelievable! Its one of the best college essays!
 
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brezec said...
Oct. 8, 2009 at 6:25 pm:
This article was surprisingly interesting. I loved the quote from Abraham, "I felt like the 12-year-old boy who stubbed his toe. I was too big to cry and it hurt to bad to laugh." I also like the idea of "failing successfully." Take for example when you were preparing for the speech. It did not matter that you didn't win, it mattered that you recognized the journey you took get there and what you learned while on the journey. Overall, if you look deep enough into it, thi... (more »)
 
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brezec said...
Oct. 8, 2009 at 6:20 pm:
This article was suprsingly interesting. I loved the quote from Abraham, "I felt like the 12-year-old boy who stubbed his toe. I was too big to cry and it hurt to bad to laugh." I also like the idea of "failing successfully." Take for example when you were preparing for the speech. It did not matter that you didn't win, it mattered that you recognized the journey you took get there and what you learned while on the journey. Overall, if you look deep enough into it, this ... (more »)
 
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Katie P. said...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 6:26 pm:
Its a really great essay, and it is definitely a good piece for your college applications. It says something about YOU, which is important. I'd recommend editing the '(ouch - minor) (ouch - major)' lines though. It sounds like slang which takes away from the tone of your piece.
 
legaleagle replied...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 7:01 pm :
Thanks for the feedback! I really worked to put a piece of "me" into it. I also had in keep in mind that my initial intended readers had probably been reading hundreds of similar essays, so I wanted to catch their attention at different points throughout the piece, so that was why I sometimes included slang phrases. I used the essay to apply to Centre College, and that is where I am now!
 
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Hurricane said...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 8:41 am:
i agree, this was a great piece. it said something to me - not to be completely cheesy and weird sounding - but it did. it screamed to me not to give up, as you didn't. all i have to say, even though i have said a lot, is thank you. :)
 
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sojohnitis said...
Sept. 17, 2009 at 12:12 am:
haha cool story bro!
 
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DIPTI said...
Aug. 1, 2009 at 6:03 am:
I LIKED IT ITS INSPIRATIONAL.
 
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joykim92 said...
Jul. 8, 2009 at 7:07 pm:
This was a real fun essay to read. Nice~ I hope that you will/did get into the college of your choice.=]
 
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Jia M. said...
Jun. 20, 2009 at 3:15 am:
Wow, this essay is really inspiring, i actually just received notice that i was rejected to some program i was applying to, i felt really bad about it until i read this essay: now i feel motivated to apply again next year.Thanks
 
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