Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
I don’t believe in failure. I don’t believe that it is possible to mess something up so entirely that nothing good can come of it. If I make a mistake, I learn from it. If I’m not as good as I want to be at something, I work that much harder at it. Mistakes prompt lessons, and lessons lead to improvement. So in the end, how can failure even occur? It all depends on how you look at it, and what you choose to take away.
When I joined the cross country team my freshman year, I was not a runner, but I wanted to be. I saw how confident running had made my brother, I saw how close he and his teammates had grown each year, and I saw, most vividly, the giant hot fudge sundae waiting for me at the end of each race. I would undoubtedly become the mirror image of the women on the cover of Runner’s World Magazine. That is, after I ran off the calories.
I arrived the first day of practice with a severe lack of summer training and what quickly became clear as a misguided notion of reality. This became shockingly evident as I finished the first day’s work out (four miles through winding forest hills) right on the heels of the second-to-last girl. The final six of us had fallen so far behind that we had lost sight of our superiorly-speeded stampede, and had to retrace our steps to our coach in order to inquire which path to take.
“This sucks,” panted the girl before me, “It’s the first day, and we’ve already failed.”
I started to agree, but caught myself. This wasn’t the girl I wanted to be in high school. I refused to fail. “First day’s always the worst,” I breathed, “but we’re in the perfect spot to be most improved by the end of the season! That is what we’re going for, right?” I winked and she looked at me with a little hope. I had made my first friend on the team.
I was wrong about one thing, but right about the other. The first day was by no means the worst, but we were in a perfect position to show personal improvement, even if we wouldn’t be breaking course records. I trained with an intensity I never knew I possessed, and went from being the girl who struggled through warm ups to the girl with the record for most crunches done in one practice. Unfortunately, my lack of pre-season preparation caught up with me, and by the end of October I had torn apart the growth plate on my left pelvis and chronically injured both shins. My dreamt-of high school career was brought to a sudden end at the wrap of the season, and I was dangerously close to calling the whole episode one giant failure. But I caught myself. I refused to fail.
I wasn’t the mirror image of the Runner’s World Magazine model, unless the mirror came from a fun house and the magazine was held at just the right angle. I did, however, gain a whole herd of friends, a herd that ran wildly through the woods while singing High School Musical and ate family packs of goldfish like it was post-race ambrosia.
Cross country gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone. I discovered I could love something I once feared and hated, even if my body could not quite back up my enthusiasm. It gave me the confidence to pursue my passions, allowing me to compete in dance at the college level when I was only sixteen. Most importantly, it reinforced the belief that keeps me standing tall: failure isn’t an occurrence, it’s an attitude. My so-called “failed” career as a cross country runner turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my life.