After the Fire

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

The world was closing in and the flame of desire to be a beautiful fire dancer was rapidly burning out with every shallow, poorly-oxygenated breath that I took. I was my own show, and not the one my parents drove three hours to come and see as my last ever summer camp performance. Full-on panic ensued; my counselor took me off of the stage and put me on a golf cart; as the night ended I was the accidental, unplanned encore that the whole camp ogled at as they left the circus arena. However, at that moment, I didn’t know that my biggest perceived failure ultimately sparked my biggest period of personal growth.

Three weeks earlier, I had confronted my seven-year fear of fire dancing. I was both terrified and fascinated by the apparent danger. But, fully embracing that it was my last summer at camp, I suffered through the audition and by some miracle I ended up playing with a tennis ball doused in lighted kerosene. My reaction to the ball of light was completely opposite to those around me; instead of the radiant smiles that illuminated my groupmates’ faces, my eyes clouded with tears as the ball slipped through my shaking hands and my fear paralyzed me. Alas, the bright burning ball at which I had stared for years continued to bring terror and darkness.

I wanted to quit. I couldn’t do the tricks—I could barely hold my equipment correctly. I asked my instructor if I could drop out or do something easier. But he insisted I continue. He took me aside and held a flaming torch to my skin while reassuring me that no harm would come to me and that it was more of a mental game than anything else. Before I knew it, my poi dripped with kerosene, and I was toting two small flames from the palm of my hand. I nervously attempted a Backwards Butterfly, and I succeeded. The whoosh-whoosh of the fire was beautiful: musical, even. Within a week, the fire had my heart and I helped choreograph the routine for the show. I, the one on the verge of quitting, was an asset.

Even after leaving camp, the flame continued to dance in my heart. When I returned to school and had to do a chemistry lab involving fire, I was the only one in my class who wasn’t afraid of lighting the burner. I beat the mental game. Last summer I enrolled in a French immersion program in Québec and, after making a quick judgement based on the first day of classes, I called my parents and asked them to come and pick me up. The most advanced class offered seemed to be a simple review of tenth grade material, and I wanted to keep my fiery love for French language, culture, and grammar fanned and alive. I spoke to the director of the program but like my fire instructor, she wouldn’t let me quit. She knew that I would be able to learn something new, just not in the manner in which I thought I would. And by the time I left Québec, her promise came true.

As I learned in chemistry class, gold tested in fire becomes stronger. I have to look past initial problems and figure out creative ways to overcome the challenges lurking in the darkness. Whether it be with fire or a summer program in a new country, I have to figure out a way to look past the seemingly insurmountable problems directly in front of me and see the ever-growing flame that I know I have the power to fuel. I’m still fighting my tendency to see the shadows before the light, but I know one day I will consistently and confidently catch the fireball and just keep spinning.

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