Common App Essay #2

2. 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?

Failure. I guess that is what I am having trouble with. The word, itself. What it connotes.

I have lost many things. Countless softball games, tennis matches, golf tournaments, so many swimming races I cannot even attempt to log.

I have not been chosen for many things. I did not get into the yearbook committee in high school. The coach passed me over for the softball team, too. I did not get into my top two colleges. I was not picked for organization at Miami that everyone cool got into – what was it called, MUSF? I did not get to attend a Summer Media Institute in film one summer. I was not selected to be Disney Teacher of the Year, nor was I awarded a few OAC individual artist grants (though I did one, yahoo). I was not placed in a district job I thought I had earned. I was not deemed worthy of being a workshop leader. I wrote a book and got eight healthy rejections.

I have not be successful at recipes, especially those involving pork. I tried to be a great dancer in water aerobics class but lacked a certain necessary rhythm. I tried choosing the just right paint color of my dining room for months until I figured it out.

I lost a kid at the zoo during a field trip.

I passed out when getting stitches removed from my face.

I have tried to stop biting my nails for forty years and could only string together a few weeks without crumbling.

I tried loving a person or two and am just now starting to understand the kind of generosity and acceptance that takes.

I once was so sad that I thought about driving off the side of the road. That lasted for a year or two, but, thankfully, I can’t even remember what that feeling felt like.

But failure? I cannot think of a time I failed.

When I looked up the etymology of the word failure, this is what I got: mid 17th century (originally as failer, in the senses ‘nonoccurrence’ and ‘cessation of supply’): from Anglo-Norman French failer for Old French faillir (see fail).

You see, I have not had nonoccurances. So many things have occurred. Nor have I had a cessation of supply. All of the above occurrences were abundant in supply. Not the kind of huge life lessons an admissions board might be looking for, but, as with all events, the above nudged and shaped me in ways, conscious and unconscious.

I keep playing games. I keep trying out for opportunities. I still trust and lean into love. I count all of the heads when I go on field trips now. Twice, I count them twice.

And, I write.

These “failures” are the semantics of stories. These “failures” are ripe with supply. I do not know who I would be if I could have broken one minute in 100 freestyle. I don’t know who I would have been had Ohio University welcomed me into their film class. I do not know how much gentleness might have been stripped from me had I not known depression. But, why wander down that hypothetical parallel universe anyway? It is what it is, as my friend Kathy tells me.

My job, your job dare I say, is to accept every single thing that put you here. In this place, in your skin, with all of its wrinkles and bruises. Grace is sometimes disguised as failure. So, appreciate each of your days, take it all in – maybe even as gift.


3 thoughts on “Common App Essay #2”

  1. The “sweet lemons” approach to failure hasn’t been very effective for me. I think the best reaction is that of people who realize failure has a lot to do with statistics (for everyone whom comes in first, there has to be at least one person who comes in second, and many more down the line). I’m told at eight rejection slips one is only beginning to market a novel. I really like what Adlai Stevenson said when he lost to President Eisenhower and was asked how he felt about it: “I’m too old to cry but it hurts too much to laugh.”

    1. It’s not quite sweet lemons, Jim, for me – though my writing in the last paragraph surely makes it seem that way. It’s just a release maybe – there is nothing much I can do about these lapses and falters. “It is what it is” as my friend Kathy used to tell me. And, you’re right, eight is nothing.

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