Meaningful Mistakes

Dana - Traverse City, Michigan
Entered on June 3, 2008
Age Group: Under 18
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I am not perfect. Sometimes I struggle with that statement. Life has been kind to me. I was born into a wealthy family, graced with academic success, and gifted with athletic talent. And because much has been given to me, much has been expected of me. In sports, anything less than a State Championship is considered failure. In school, anything less than a flawless 4.0 GPA is a disappointment. Usually I meet these expectations. Usually.

There are times, though, when I do make a mistake. I falter. My grades were impeccable until my junior year. I struggled through AP US History and ended up with an A- for the semester. A glaring blemish on my transcript. Furthermore, I was no longer in the running for Valedictorian, but had to settle for Salutatorian. Then my senior football season ended in disaster. We fought our way to the title game and lost. We were not the envied State Champion that day, but the runner up. Things did not happen the way I had planned them to.

These debacles distressed me at first, but later I had the realization that these “failures” were not complete wastes; I learned much from both experiences. That A- prompted me to focus on better study habits in all my subjects. I began to read the assigned chapters in-depth, rather than skimming them, hoping for some absorption. I also started to study days before tests, as opposed to studying only the class period before. I was able to get into my preferred college and have since challenged myself with history courses, working to improve my skill in that area. Getting second place in football prompted me to focus even more on winning a State Championship in track. I worked hard all winter, going to track practices even while still competing on the wrestling team. I ran at indoor meets and came in on Saturdays to get extra work in. It paid off: last weekend our track team won the State title. That letdown was an incentive for me to train harder.

Not only did these failures provide motivation, they also made me consider what accomplishments I had managed to achieve. Instead of dwelling on all the negatives, I was able to stop, slow down, and reflect on what had gone right. I learned to appreciate every small success, whether it was a good grade on a test or a small drop in my 400m dash time. In fact, I found that it is the small successes, not the final result, that are most fulfilling. For how can one arrive at his destination without first completing the journey?

I believe in the importance of making mistakes. I have learned so much more from my failures than I have ever learned from my successes. Errors are what burn in my head for days while I contemplate their meaning. Accomplished tasks are just checkmarks off my list, no longer requiring conscious memory space, forgotten within the week. Life is an eternal learning process. When I am making mistakes, I still have something to learn. The day I cease to make mistakes is the day I cease to learn and, essentially, to live.