The math quiz lay menacingly on the desk below. Although I had been attentive in class and had studied the lesson the night before, my brain was not clicking. My head started to boil with frustration and worry, and my ears turned crimson as the clock’s second hand raced rapidly around its circle. Five minutes left in the period and I had little done. I tried scribbling incoherent numbers and circling random answers to no avail. The clock struck 10:30; the bell blared from the speaker.
My classmates began packing their belongings and shuffling toward the door, but I sat frozen, staring blankly at the quiz sitting on my desk. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. L, walked to my seat by the window and asked that I turn in the quiz. Suddenly, I began to sob and exclaim how exasperated I was at the moment. Tears trickled down my pale cheeks while Mrs. Litchfield comforted me and explained that the quiz really was not that important.
“But I failed!” I stammered in between sniffles. “I can’t fail a quiz; that’s horrible!”
“You don’t have to be perfect,” Mrs. Litchfield calmly replied as she moved toward the crucifix mounted on the classroom wall of the Catholic school. “Look here. Jesus was the only perfect person to walk this earth. Trying to live up to that standard by being a perfectionist is just impossible.”
Perfection is not possible. This stark realization had never before crossed my simple mind because until that point, I had not dealt with failure. This experience was a seminal point in learning how to deal with success and failure and how to understand what is truly important in life. Previously, I had put a great deal of pressure upon myself to perform at my peak in everything ventured into, but I began to learn at an early age how to have a balanced perspective in life. My competitive drive and work ethic are still integral parts of my identity, but being number one is not my epitome of success. The process of learning and challenging myself has replaced perfection as a more meaningful and beneficial path.
This path was especially emphasized last year through the infamously difficult AP Physics class. In this class, test scores usually averaged out around sixty-five percent, and spending over an hour on a single homework worksheet was not uncommon. To succeed, one needed to thoroughly understand and apply the information and could not merely cram the night before tests. Failing a test once in a while was normal in this class but initially came with frustration. Anger and self-resentment gripped me after the first bad grade, but eventually I realized that failure is not always terrible. Keeping the class in perspective by not letting the adversity of a bad grade phase me, learning from my mistakes, and working hard not to repeat those mistakes made me a stronger student and helped earn an “A” in the second semester.
One person who has always kept my adversity in perspective is my godfather, Uncle Joe. He was born with Fragile X syndrome, an inherited cause of mental impairment that leads to some intellectual incapability. He has always been my biggest fan in my athletic career. Even if I have a terrible game, he is consistently there to encourage and support me. This unconditional support has given me a positive attitude in both athletics and academics. I was placed on the B-team for basketball my freshman year. Although I was disappointed, I did not allow this to bother me and eventually worked my way up to the A-team by the end of the season and started on varsity my junior year. Avoiding dwelling on the negative and looking forward to the next challenge is crucial in my life.
Not being afraid of failing has allowed for a great deal of self-discovery. By keeping an open mind to taking tough new routes, I have achieved previously unimagined goals, like the “A” in physics and starting on the varsity basketball team. I have learned to live a more fulfilling life by embracing the processes of learning and hard work instead of being preoccupied with perfection. Accepting challenges as a fundamental part of life has made me who I am.