YourTurn winners: What have you learned from failure?

LaMyiah Harvel, first place
Abigail Judge, second place
Sanjay Lawler, third place
Sometimes it’s hard to find that special something in your life that you really love or want to get better at. This is why you shouldn't be scared to fail.

Editor’s note: The awesome job. The dream college. The spot on the JV basketball team. Sometimes we simply don’t get what we want. Whether it’s because of something completely out of our control, or something we did or didn’t do—we still perceive it as failure. But, how we react to and learn from a setback is what will impact the future.

The winning essays detail a hardship and how the writer overcame it. Rather than dwelling in the disappointment, the essayists triumphed thanks to persistence and personal reflection.

First place ($100 prize)

LaMyiah Harvel
Central High School

Judge’s notes: “A genuine and heartfelt reflection on the writer’s situation. Not only did she give insight into what she learned from the incident, but how loved ones around her were also affected. Made for a compelling story into how she failed at something and how she was able to turn it into a positive in the end. The story had clear details about what the failure was, the progression (and repercussions) of her actions and the learning process afterward.”

When I first started high school, I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted my first day to be like the movies. Get lost, sit at lunch with strangers—who eventually become friends—meet new friends, and go home anxious to tell my parents how wonderful my day was. My first day didn’t turn out to be that way.

My first day of high school was the day I experienced my first confrontation. A former classmate of mine—that I had never gotten along with—walked past me. Instead of not saying anything, I impetuously spoke out loud, calling her ugly. Words were said between the two of us, and eventually, she threw a textbook at me, which hit my shoulder, barely missing my face. My body began to boil as my face turned red. Thoughts rushed into my head all at once. “Everyone is looking at you Myiah.” “Are you going to stand for this?” “Just let her win?” “Let it go?” “Or fight?” Ignorantly, I followed the thought that told me to get up and show her I wasn’t anything to play with. I fought her.

This began my first test of trying to figure out who I really was as a person. At the time, I felt like what I did was right. She threw a book at me. I’m not a pushover. All of the time I sat in the principal’s office, I made every attempt to make myself believe everything was the other girl’s fault.

That evening, I went home to a screaming mom and the most disappointed dad. The principal of my school personally called my dad. She explained to him how hard it was to get me into this school and how she was second-guessing if it was a good choice. The look on my dad’s face brought me back to reality. He worked hard to get me into Central. I don’t live in the area, but he was determined to get me into a good school.

That night, I was left with my thoughts. I realized that I wasn’t just showing myself what type of person I could potentially be—I was showing everyone around me. I was showing staff, teachers, students, coaches—everyone—that I was a fighter. Knowing I let my parents down was devastating. Was this who I was becoming? A girl who lets her parents down? Someone who is careless and comes to school just to get into trouble? Did I even care about my future?

That night I cried, both out of frustration and confusion. This was not who I wanted to be. I was worth more. The people around me, that take the time out of their day to be with me, deserved better. My parents deserved better.

My attitude about who I was changed the next day. I decided I wasn’t going to let the people around me believe that I was a bad person. I was better than what they had seen the first day of school. I didn’t fight, didn’t get suspended and didn’t get sent out of class. I joined Girl Scouts and got a mentor. I played sports and had good grades.

At a young age, I didn’t know who I really was. I had to go through so much in order to actually know what I stood for. To this day, I am unsure of who the person LaMyiah Harvel is, and will be, but there are a couple things I do know for sure. I know college is where I want to be. I know that I am an ambitious young lady, and I am ready to commit to my education. I joined a college preparation class called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) during my sophomore year. I’ve been through many tests and have learned many lessons and I am ready for the next step toward my future goals.

High school isn’t yet over for me, but I see the values in the lessons I have learned. Besides keeping grades up, staying away from the wrong people and being involved, I will have to go through so much more. It will all be worth it. And maybe someday I can tell my story to a crowd of people.

Second place ($50 prize)

Abigail Judge
Mounds Park Academy

Judge’s notes: “Bringing the ending precisely back to the opening is a nice touch, especially given the author’s enlightened understanding of what makes her ‘kind of a big deal’ after the initial failure. And the examples of how she subsequently applied her learning are relevant and thoughtful.”

I’m Abigail Judge and I’m kind of a big deal. It’s an undeniable fact, or at least my sixth grade ego assured me it was undeniable. I strutted around silently believing I was the smartest sixth grader to grace the Earth—modesty was not one of my strengths. Therefore, I had to apply to the “tough program,” an ultra-competitive enrichment course. There was no challenging academic subject that I had not mastered, so this program would be a breeze. When the time arrived, I snatched the forms and blazed through the cliché application questions with an arrogant smirk. Not being accepted seemed like an impossible outcome.

After unworried months spent bragging to relatives and friends about the challenging course—using rhetoric like “college-prep” and “challenging” to convince them of my compatibility with the program—the long awaited letter arrived. With one word, two syllables, my narcissistic world disintegrated.


And, I crumbled. With one word, my future disappeared. I let down my family and friends, and I let down myself. Suddenly I was not the best or the smartest, I was a failure.

My life changed—but not in the dramatic way I envisioned. It didn’t end, and my future was not ruined; yet I predicted the end to my egocentric world, and my competitive self vanished. I emerged a light-hearted risk-taker, impervious to the dread of failure. Leaving my comfort zone became the norm, as sticking to what I knew—logic-based courses like mathematics—seemed impractical and unexciting. No longer did applying for the PHAT leadership program in eighth grade intensify my stress because it was nonacademic. I applied and understood that I might not be admitted. After discovering I was welcomed into the program, my ego did not inflate, I thanked those who accepted me and gave myself a slight “pat on the back,” quietly celebrating my successes.

As life becomes more complicated and I become older, I remain high-spirited and adventurous. Facing a milestone, the driver’s license test, I forgot the fears of not passing and focused on the task at hand, driving. Though I did not pass, I didn’t consider myself a failure, as I would have in sixth grade. I regained composure after shedding minimal tears and rescheduled my test, calling the first one a “test run.” However, my greatest risk of all, after days of contemplation, was deciding to apply for Yearbook Editor-in-Chief—despite the uncertainty of not getting the position—and competing against close friends for the role. Sixth grade Abbie would have forgotten friendships and ruthlessly rivaled for the spot. But with my new and improved attitude, I resisted competitiveness and vowed to accept the outcome, favorable or not.

I’m Abigail Emily Judge and I am kind of a big deal. However, not because of my academic achievements or competitive attitude, but because after my encounter with failure, I am adventurous enough to try ambitious, nonacademic endeavors, re-attempt a task after defeat, and even take risks despite the possibility of adverse outcomes.

Third place ($30 prize)

Sanjay Lawler
Roosevelt High School

Judge’s notes: “Overcoming failure by practicing is a great lesson to learn, and this essay does a good job of showing this with the example of the writer trying to make a shot on a regulation-size basket. I could just see him trying again and again, and could feel his pride in finally making a shot. The essay also does an excellent job of explaining why failure can be so fruitful in the closing section. Well done.”

Failure is lack of success. It is mostly always out of your control—and you probably can’t predict that it’s coming. However, once you experience failure, you can learn from it. This might get you more determined to try what you failed at again, but do it differently and better the next time.

When I was about four or five years old, my mom took me to the park and I went to the basketball hoops. I tried to make a basket on the official sized hoop. First try, I barely got the ball to hit the net. That moment of failure was a blessing in disguise. Another key part of that moment is that I didn’t doubt myself. I had a specific feeling and drive to make the basket on that official sized hoop. I wasn’t focusing on how long it would take me. I focused only on making the basket.

After I felt that motivation to make my first basket in an official sized hoop, I never doubted myself. Starting the day after I failed to make my first shot, my mom and I went to that same park every day after school. It took me weeks and weeks to make my first basket. But, one day, I tried a shot—and it hit the backboard and went through the hoop. I went to call my mom and I told her I made my first basket in the official sized hoop. After I made my first shot, I made another, and another, and another. I felt like I couldn’t stop!

The day I made that first shot, it felt like a great achievement. To this day, I’m playing basketball almost every day. I love basketball and I love getting better at it. But, on the days when I lack confidence in my game, I sometimes refer to that story. The story is one of the best life stories I’ve ever learned. It tells me today that I can achieve whatever I want. It’s just about a matter of how much time you put into it.

This story of failure has led me to great things. I have met many friends through basketball. I’ve gone out of my comfort zone. I found something in my life that I really love doing. Sometimes it’s hard to find that special something in your life that you really love or want to get better at. This is why you shouldn’t be scared to fail.


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