I’m Glad I Failed

The lessons we take from failure 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?

Sitting in the auditorium of Cherry Creek High School, I felt a sudden apprehension in the pit of my stomach. After a long and tumultuous journey, I was here at last. I, along with two of my friends and teammates, had spent the better part of the year preparing for the ACSL National Computer Science Competition, and we were about to learn how we fared.

As the contest organizer started announcing the placement of the teams, I squirmed in my seat. For my team and me, this was more than just getting a shiny medal to hang on our walls; this was about proving to our school administration that we were capable of running a computer science club. Indeed the administration seemed to have a certain petulant attitude towards the topic, and try as we might, they were adamant in their beliefs that we were naïve and inexperienced; we hoped to prove them wrong. As the names rolled by, I closed my eyes. There were shouts of vivacious joy, cries of indignant frustration, until. “[redacted], 30 points.”

My eyes shot open. 30 POINTS! No, that can’t be; there must have been a mistake. I sank slowly into my seat as the realization that we had come in second to last washed over me. Never in my entire life had I felt like such a loser; at that moment, the feelings of frustration, anger, guilt, and disbelief all coalesced into an inexplicit soup – a soup of failure. Perhaps the school administrators were right. Maybe we are incapable of programming. I thought back to all of the time I spent studying, all the countless hours I spent coding and debugging my programs. Heck, I even wasted away my Memorial Day weekend, and for what? We were crushed so badly it was almost embarrassing.

The feeling was further compounded when our chaperone turned towards us and said, “Well, I hope this was worth it.” The acerbic tone wasn’t lost on me. The contrition I felt knowing I had let both him and my team down was inexplicable. But it was during this nadir of my life, lost in introspection, that my mouth suddenly curved into a smile. I realized that I had lost sight of the bigger picture: it was never supposed to be about proving ourselves to the school; it was about helping to fill the gap that our school curriculum had in computer science. It was about helping to guide those who had an interest in programming but were unable to teach themselves. It was about seeing the smiles on their faces when they executed their first “Hello World” program.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. Together, my team and I decided to offer free, private tutoring at the local library. During the summer, I set aside every Sunday to host a small introductory programming course. As word spread about its success, individuals of all ages, even parents, started attending.

Even though the school administration viewed us as incompetent, I would be damned if I let that stand in my way.

While I never got a shiny medal to hang on my wall, I did get something much more important: a new perspective. The lessons learned from failure can be infinitely more rewarding than the brief happiness gleaned from success. By failing in the competition, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had been led astray from my original intentions. Seven months and a successful club boasting more than 30 new members later, I stared at my (former) chaperone dead in the eye and replied, “I’m glad I failed.”

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