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

At 6 AM, March 2nd, 2014, I woke up glimmering with hope. However, at 1 PM that fateful, unforgettable day, I came in second place in the Orange County Spelling Bee, lost my chance to compete at nationals. I breezed through almost every word. Although I spelled “perestroika,” “scherzo,” “schadenfreude,” and “realschule,” I eventually tripped over a seemingly easy word.“Chaplain,” announced the judges. After hesitation, I spelled it after Charlie Chaplin, the only context I recognized this foreign-sounding word in.


The buzzer stung as I rushed to my chair, confused, distraught. Next, my opponent arrived to the podium, winning the grand-prize with “editorial.” In the days after, I complained that my opponent’s teacher tutored him weekly while I couldn’t afford tutors and studied alone. I made excuses that I didn’t have chances to compete in elementary like other contestants. I justified that “the dictionary relates chaplains to churches. How unfair! I’m not Christian.” Although runner-up earned three-hundred dollars and a trophy, I wanted more. I still sobbed profusely for failing to fulfill my childhood dream of appearing on television to make my friends and family proud. I couldn’t forgive myself because eighth-grade was my last chance to compete. I couldn’t forget my disappointment since my high school had the auditorium where I won district spelling bees.

Every day, I reluctantly walked past my Spelling Bee history. It may seem ridiculous to feel distraught over a competition from four years ago, but the Bee was an integral part of me. My dream was crushed. In seventh grade, I denied myself fun like video games after being eliminated in the Regional Bee by another seemingly simple word, “kona.” I couldn’t sleep knowing I butchered a four-letter word. Even worse, I passed the Kona Inn everyday on the way to school. How could I miss that? It didn’t help that my classmates cheered, “Shanni is the next Akeelah and the Bee,” and compared me to an alumnus who qualified for nationals, so when I lost, I felt like I broke school tradition. Years later, I watched Bad Words, which involves a forty-year-old man who repeated fifth grade to have more opportunities to win the bee. Sadly, I sympathized with him since I was that desperate to cling onto my dream. That movie helped me realize though that sometimes, holding onto dreams hurts more than letting go.

Although I felt like my failure was being rubbed into my face, I appreciate how misspelling “kona” led me to learn about different interests like the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon where you suddenly see a word everywhere after learning it. I learned to pay attention to details in life, which led to my vast improvement to runner-up at the following year’s bee. For a year, I befriended the dictionary, tracking every word I didn’t know. After all this, I learned that what really matters is that I gave my best effort and that there’s a time and place for everything: the spelling bee chapter of my life has ended, and I mustn’t dwell on the past anymore. It was what I learned along the way, not the frustration, that has stayed with me all these years.

Now that I realize that winning isn’t everything, that high expectations kill, and to focus on details, I developed realistic worldviews to emphasize high visualizable goals instead of counting my chickens before they hatch. Looking back, I don’t regret losing. Without the bee, I wouldn’t know that Germans pronounce “ie” as “ee” and “ei” as “ai” or that Latins replace “ch” with “k.” My loss matures me in ways the glory of winning wouldn’t have given me. I thank the Bee for influencing my love for languages and learning. These experiences helped me accept that bad times will accentuate the good times and respect others’ achievements even if it means my loss.

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