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?
I’m standing in the arena, facing my opponent. Hands on guard and ready to fight, fists clenched and sweat dripping down my fingers. In the distance, I hear the command, “fight!” The match has begun.
Sparring, kata, sweeps, hooks, and grabs had all proven to be integral aspects of my training in the art of kenpo over the past eight years. I spent countless hours learning and mastering the material, and I was always excited to show that all of my hard work was paying off. I got that one chance at tournaments: I had to make the most of it. These days were filled with sweaty palms, nervous laughter, and bated breath.
As the minutes of the fight drag on, my breath becomes shallow and my face heats up. I continue to push on, drawing nearer to my opponent and throwing out kicks, punches, blocks. My opponent retaliates, launching a snappy roundhouse kick that jolts me off my feet and onto the ground. I’m sprawled across the floor and gasping for breath as I try to blink back the fuzziness creeping into my vision. My heart pounds violently against my chest, begging for escape. I try to inhale, but all I feel are daggers in my lungs.
Following a week of recovery, I walked back into my karate studio with a slightly bruised ego and noticeably bruised ribs. I had tried my best to push the tournament out of my mind, but there was something about it that had changed me for the worse. I was afraid to get into another fight; I was afraid to be left on the ground again, gasping for air.
The next big tournament was six months away. I was not nearly prepared for it. I shied away from every punch and kick that came my way, and I found myself in a corner more often than I was in the fight. I desperately wanted to make a redeeming appearance, so I went back to the basics. I assured myself that I knew the fundamentals of the fight, training at half-speed and painstakingly reviewing my maneuvers. I committed to long hours, practicing the roundhouse kicks, perfecting my combination strikes, mastering the art of deadly elegance. Before I knew it, I was back to full-force fights, and I was back to being confident in my abilities.
Back in the arena and back to the boiling anticipation. Back to the tournament. I lift my eyes and hear the word “fight!” ring out loud and clear. My opponent and I close the gap between us. I can feel the air whistle past my ear as her punch just narrowly misses my face, and I can feel my heart picking up its pace. This is the moment of truth: fight back and overcome, or retreat to safety? I take a deep breath, put up my hands, and launch everything I have into this fight. Sweat and ragged breaths, exhaustion and pain, punches, kicks, and grabs. Everything combined into one whirlwind until finally: victory. My opponent was defeated and my insecurities slain. I never want to back away from a challenge again: I want to stare adversity in the eye and tell it “watch me.” Every challenge that I face is an opportunity for me to find new strength, to discover parts of me that I didn’t know even existed. I know that bigger challenges will come my way. Perhaps a fight with a roommate, a disagreement with a professor, or the pressure to participate in activities that don’t match up with my beliefs. None of these obstacles are going to be easy to face, but I’ve learned how to push through the hard times and not stop until I reach the other side. So for now, I’m going to keep my hands on guard and my head in the fight.