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Learn to own your failures, or they will own you.

By Ben Feuer


Before I became fabulously rich and famous as an educational consultant and all my dreams came true, I had a dark past.  I made (gasp) short films.  Some of them were quite enjoyable.  Others, not so much.  Why I decided to make a terrible science fiction short film on a budget of $3, I will never know, but there exists actual documented footage of me forcing a man to climb inside a cardboard box and wave a light over his head, pretending to travel through time so he can go back and kill himself.

And before you ask, no, you can't see it.

Most people sitting down to write an essay have a block around failure.  Failure, the ugly stepchild of success, is something essay writers tend to flee from, even when they KNOW that exploring and understanding failure is important.

We all have different ways of avoiding it.  One of the most common ones I see is people claiming they 'just can't think of anything good'.  Like heck you can't.  These mortifying experiences will haunt you until the day you die.  You know exactly what they are.  You just ain't sharing the good stuff!

Some people are happy to show failure -- of a particular type.  The type where, at the very last minute, the day is saved through some fabulous deus ex machina.  This is another way of absolving oneself of responsibility for the failure.

We are in a renaissance of failure.  Self help books tell us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.  Failure is a good thing, as we are becoming more and more aware.  Entrepreneurs benefit from failure.  So do purveyors of cheap pizza.  There are conferences devoted to it.  It's a good thing.

So why are we still afraid to talk about it?

The problem is one of self-insight.  It is one thing to experience failure, quite another to learn from it.  Most people are perfectly good at failing, but lousy at recovering.  They never examine their failures closely to figure out what they might have meant.  Worse still, they abandon the field, giving up on things they're 'just not good at' (as though they knew).

So let me be the one to tell you.  No application to a top school is complete without a failure story.  You may not wind up telling it.  But you have to write it.   You have to figure out what it was, what you learned, and how you evolved as a result of it.  Don't wait.  Go write it now.  Your application will thank you.