This is my common app essay about failure within the debate community. My essay is currently about 20 words over the overlimit. Please read and give any feedback. :) I appreciate it a lot. Be as harsh and critical as you can.
Society often delineates success as earning the top test scores, attending a stellar university, and living a luxurious life. The competition against my peers to achieve these things created a conflict within me which led to search out what being successful actually meant. I grew up in a household where your achievements were only achievements if they were better relative to other people. Joining the debate team was an opportunity to give me leverage above my peers. I had high prospects of success and fame for myself within the community. Because my grades were better than average, I illogically assumed that I would be naturally talented with regards to debate. But I was sorely mistaken. I failed miserably at my first tournament. By failing to meet my personal expectations, I questioned whether I had the capability to succeed outside of the debate world. Rather than being motivated by this, I lost confidence in myself to improve in other areas. This assisted in creating a poor mindset for myself, one in which if I didn't achieve what I wanted the first time, I didn't see any purpose to trying again. After weeks of my teammates and coach encouraging me, I decided to give myself another chance and attended the Sun Country Forensics Institute the following summer.
I started the final camp tournament with the new mindset that no matter how well I debated, my main goal would be to have a good time. My partner and I were losing rounds to teams that had a year less experience than us. Prior to my improved mindset, if I lost the first debate round at the tournament, I lost faith in myself and gave up on the rest of the rounds. Now these feelings had disappeared and losses only motivated me to win the next round. In this process, not only did I discover ways to progress my debating skills, but more importantly, I learned that losing only teaches you what needs to be changed to succeed. I started my junior year by being proactive and immersing myself in extensive research and preparation for debates. I began to take each criticism constructively rather than taking it as a personal attack. My work paid off at the Berkeley national tournament where my partner and I won almost all of our debates against some of the best teams in the nation, something I used to only dream of.
My improved attitude not only benefited me in regards to debate, but also impacted my attitude in the work environment. As a teaching assistant, my students' successes were my successes. When I first started teaching, if my student didn't almost immediately improve, I would have given up. Now I realize that if my teaching method wasn't effective, it didn't mean I was a failure at teaching. It only meant that I needed to change techniques to tailor to each individual student. Moreover, I realize that my students can't create significant progress overnight and the small victories along the way contribute to the bigger picture of success. This not only applied to my students, but to me as well. I can't assume that I'll be the best the first time I try something. Accomplishments I make are accomplishments because they are better than my previous successes. I now understand that another person's accomplishments have no effect on the perception of my own. Shifting my definition of success changed not only how I perceive success, but what I view as failure. A means over ends based approach, I learned, is a more productive way to arrive at satisfaction.
Even if I don't continue my debate career past high school, my new mindset will help me succeed in college. Losing rounds against teams less experienced taught me that age or experience isn't a reason to underestimate my abilities. Accepting criticism constructively taught me that not doing something perfect can only improve future projects. Instead of being unhappy when things don't turn out as expected, I will view it in a different light to turn it into a win.