Yale Common App Essay: Failure

Yale Common App Essay: Failure


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?

Every time I swung my leg back, I froze.

It didn’t matter how many times I’d tried, or how perfectly I was postured. The moment I was ready to jump, flying across the ice with my arms poised to snap in, my heart would catch and I’d fall out of position, gliding uselessly around the corner to make another futile attempt. It was in this way that I muddled my way through practice – arranging myself into an array of takeoff positions before falling out of form, like I really hadn’t planned to do a thing.

I often left the ice near tears, but I would tell myself that I was at the very least persevering. I had this naïve idea – remnant of the old elementary school mantra – that the only thing worse than failing is giving up. I had too much pride, and it clouded my judgment, deluding me into settling for the status quo. I kept skating not because I loved it too much to give up, but because I didn’t want to admit defeat.

In June of my freshman year, I decided that it had to end. I would perform one final time at the end of the summer, and would never look back thereafter. That day, in late August, I pulled on my tights and knotted my hair with a bittersweet feeling of finality. I was glad to finally let go of that stubbornness, to free up room in my life to explore something new. But I also hated to think that, after all my years of trying, I was surrendering with little to show. So I waited to be announced that afternoon, leaning against the glass panels that encircled the ice, with neither grief nor joy – just a vague sense of relief.

Acknowledging the audience and judges for the last time, I took my starting position with unusual calm. When the music began to play, something stirred in me, a spirit that had grown foreign years ago. I forgot the audience, my coach, even my mother, who was watching from the stands. I forgot the struggles, mental and physical, that had plagued me on ice for years. The self-defeating pressure I’d imposed on myself lifted, and I was empowered to release all my energy on that ice. Every muscle in my body seemed simultaneously lighter, stronger, nimbler. Although I’d practiced with the music hundreds of times, in that moment each note made me want to jump higher, spin faster, and skate. For the first time, I wasn’t sequentially completing the elements – I was genuinely performing. And I remember thinking, as I moved into jump takeoff, launched into the air, and landed with a satisfying grind of blade to ice: so this is what passion feels like.

I finally recognized, while basking in the rush of excitement, that what I had been missing all along was that emotional spark. I had a strong work ethic, but without the drive of a passion, I was toiling away only to maintain mediocrity. I had become so fixated on progressing as an athlete that my purpose as a figure skater, my love for the beauty of the sport, had quietly slipped away without my noticing. It was tragic that I could not retrieve it but for a fleeting moment, when the journey was at its end and I had nothing to lose. But since that day two years ago, I’ve fallen in love with new pursuits: debate, social advocacy, political activism. Inevitably, I every once in a while begin sliding back into disillusionment. When that happens, I take a step back and remind myself: it’s not about being impressive, and it’s not about protecting yourself from failure. It’s about doing meaningful work, remembering your purpose, and bringing about change using the power that can only come from having a dream.

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