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?

The summer before my junior year, I watched my grandparents working on the far side of the lawn, shoveling compost and mounds of grayish soil over freshly seeded patches. It was a strangely perceptive moment: glistening beads of sweat ran over their wrinkled, experienced hands, seeping into creases filled with grit and soil. Having spent my teenage years living in the city, I was never able to fathom why my grandparents continued farming when they could buy everything they needed at the local store, just a short drive away. I thought their gardening a little odd, but gave it no further attention. I had other things on my mind.

That summer, all of my waking thoughts were consumed by the Young Entrepreneurship Challenge, in which a team of students and I were tasked with formulating a comprehensive business plan for an African agricultural company planning to penetrate the national market. After wrestling with a variety of concepts and weeding out foreseeable flaws and risks, I was left with a charming model. By engineering a social media campaign enabling citizens to discover more about foreign cultures, our venture could effectively promote African produce. Certain of my idea’s success, I persuaded teammates to adopt it; but, convinced of maintaining creative control, I continued to refine the idea alone. To my detriment, that optimistic confidence wasn’t perpetual. The initially impeccable model was ruthlessly dissected, seemingly torn into pieces, by a panel of critical judges. Bewildered, flabbergasted, and defeated, I could not bear to witness my seedling being destroyed before my eyes. In that moment I truly felt pain – poignant pangs arising not even from the bitterness of defeat, but from the utter senselessness with which it came.

Winter chills welcomed themselves before I could escape those aching thoughts. As I stepped amidst denuded bushes and bare flower stems, a familiar movement caught my attention: it was my grandfather, moving with a youthful intensity belying his eighty-five years, caring for his plants – investing additional time and effort especially to those that appeared so frail, sickly and about to perish. His eyes gleamed with a fatherly love that transcended the affection of a typical cultivator. In an instant I understood why: he owned his garden; it was a place where he could see and feel his labor coming, literally, to fruition. I realized that while I had tended to my own budding concept with a matching level of enthusiasm, the idea desiccated from a dearth of nutrients from my teammates, who did not feel themselves to be equal stakeholders in something I continuously framed as mine alone. Their contribution and ownership towards a cooperative effort were minimized by my selfishness. Albeit with misery, I learned that without the input of combined passion, a solitary battle is fruitless.

When I entered the NZ Environmental Entrepreneurship Competition, I vowed that I would do things differently as a leader and innovator. I entrusted others, allocating tasks and responsibility. I shared the ownership of what I held most dear: possession of a newly created idea. Seeing disparate teammates came together one by one like sunlight, water and oxygen, we named our new project Sprout!, titled with the mission of encouraging average city-dwelling consumers to become self-sufficient with food. Perhaps I didn’t realize then that we had seeded the most important idea of my teenage years, but as we placed our hands on a hard-earned trophy, those bittersweet moments of failure were still raw. In recent weeks the sullen haziness of winter has passed, exposing fresh layers of lime green, brilliant crimson, and sparks of dazzling yellow. Now, as spring arrived, I take a little time to help my grandparents in their garden. My senior year, brimming with personal growth, has finally made my small world see that good things really do become better when shared, be they ideas, labor, or just a sun-ripened tomato.

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