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?

“C810,” the judge announced. I check my code again — it’s mine. Rising from my seat, I step towards the front of the room. The other competitors clap, as is customary for speech events, breaking the sacred silence that previously occupied the room. It is only my second Speech & Debate tournament — and my very first competing in Original Oratory.

In my head, I hear the echo of my coach drilling her last minute tips and reminders two days prior to the tournament: “Remember to ask for time signals!”, “Move! Don’t stand still like a robot!”, “If you forget something, just keep talking!”

“May I have time signals?” I ask. The judge consents.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

After briefly scanning the room, my lips part and sound emerges. “We humans tend to…”

Focusing on the judge while I continue my speech, I notice her leaning on the desk like a bored student in math class after an hour of lecture. The other competitors exude an aura of disinterest and fatigue. Not good. I scour my memory of my last practice with my coach. I can’t recall anything as I am still focused on speaking, and nothing seems to be helping. An electric shock runs through my body as the judge held up two fingers. The brakes are slammed on my train of thought, leaving me stammering as I attempted to comprehend what two fingers meant. The realization hit me: two minutes remaining. I take four steps back to the center. And just like that, after what felt like hours, my speech reached its conclusion. The five remaining preliminary rounds fared with similar results, albeit the hesitation and anxiety left my voice after acclimating to the event.

“Statistically speaking, you have a 54% chance of making the Top 6 since there are only 11 competitors,” chimed the voice of my team’s president as we were awaiting the semifinals postings. “I don’t think…” Suddenly, a swarm of people rushed towards the wall, ravenous and eager to see if they had made it. I located the posting for Original Oratory, adorned with six codes printed in 36 point, Times New Roman font. My heart dropped. Missing from the posting was C810. Checking the live results, I could see why. “C810” appeared dead last, trailing 20 points behind the next competitor. I had no chance to begin with.

At our next Debate Team practice, the truth was revealed in the feedback on the judges’ ballots: “Needs more sources,” “Use hand gestures to emphasis points,” “Use word coloring to add contrast to your speech.” Novice mistakes. Pitted in an open round, I had been up against competitors that had three years of experience on their backs. Equipped with the feedback, a red pen, and a copy of my speech, I spent the rest of practice dissecting my speech. Revise. Perform in front of a mirror. Cut out the awkward parts. Repeat.

Each following tournament, my ranking rose continually upward — starting from the bottom 25%, then to the bottom 50%, and then to the top 50%. While I may never have reached the Top 6, I broke quarterfinals in a national circuit tournament three months later and came within arm’s reach two months after that when I came in seventh place in my last regular season tournament.

Utterly failing in my first tournament taught me humility and armed me with keen observation skills to learn from other competitors that consistently placed in the top three. Even having researched the event for months, that paled in comparison to the experience earned in the battlefield. With vigor and drive, I started from the bottom, just to climb my way towards the elusive Top 6. Pure talent may be a factor in oratory, but hard work, experience, and commitment are too — and that I can work with.

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