Essay Topics About Failure
College Application Essays: Tell a Story to Answer Prompt 2
When Messing Up is a Good Thing
I almost like Prompt #2 as much as Prompt #1 of the new essay questions for The Common Application: 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 lessons did you learn.
This essay prompt is music to my storytelling ears!
Why? Because first it literally asks you to tell a story (“recount an incident or time”) in your essay, which I think creates the most engaging and meaningful essays!
And secondly, it wants you to tell a story about a time you “failed.”
I know you might think the last thing you want to tell your college about is a time you screwed up, but it’s actually perfect.
I’ve talked many times in this blog how problems make the best stories.
Well, a failure is a type of problem, and a terrific one at that.
Problems (including failures) are naturally interesting to read about—who doesn’t love a juicy problem?
It’s much more fun to read about things that go wrong than when they go smoothly.
Think about the news, or your favorite movie or T.V. show!
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing,
but in rising up every time we fail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
So right out the door, this prompt is setting you up to find a compelling story about “a time” you failed, which you can then use to explain how you recovered and what you learned in the process.
That is essay gold!
The beauty of writing about a time you failed at something is that you also naturally present yourself as very human, humble and vulnerable, and someone with the maturity to recognize when you messed up.
You almost can’t help but come across as a very likable person (as opposed to students who write about their accomplishments and achievement, which risk them coming across as “all that” and not so likable.)
The more I think about it, I couldn’t have come up with a better prompt to help you write a standout essay about yourself!
The key, I believe, is to spend a few minutes expanding your definition of failure to see how may directions you could take this essay.
Literally, it means “lack of success.”
Note that it does not mean a complete failure, as in failing a test and getting an F.
It’s more the idea that you tried something, and for whatever reason it didn’t work out.
You didn’t have to experience a total flop, or a catastrophe or a complete defeat. Also, the reason whatever you tried wasn’t a success could have been your fault, or not your fault. It could have been someone else’s fault, or the fault of the situation.
In fact, there doesn’t even have to be anyone or anything to blame—as long as you turned a problematic (challenging, difficult, unpleasant) experience into something positive.
So try to expand your idea of what failure means when you think of past experiences you could relate as stories (incidents or times) in your essay.
I would suggest not even looking for a time you “failed,” but a time you didn’t succeed, or win, or finish, or complete something, or get what you wanted, or do what was expected, or when something went sideways, or you changed something about yourself.
I can think back to some great essays written by past students that could have addressed this prompt.
One student wrote about his love of tying knots and how he got stuck in a tree; and how he used his problem-solving skills to get down.
That could have been a failure.
Another student wrote about not getting the star role in a school musical, and what she learned playing a less important role. Another failure.
If you wrote about a phobia or bad habit–that’s a failure (to deal with it or get over it).
The more I think about it, a failure can be construed as almost any type of problem that you either thought you couldn’t get over or solve or handle. If you want to try to write about this prompt, I would suggest you read my Jumpstart Guide or even better, try How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps.
Just keep in mind all the ways a “failure” can be the same thing as a problem when you read it. Both these posts will also tell you how to use a story about that problem, in the form of an anecdote, to write your essay.
I also wrote several posts to help you learn how to write your stories, or anecdotes.
And here are Some Sample Essays to Inspire You.
I never thought failure could sound so sweet!
If you want help on The Common Application’s Prompt #1, read THIS POST.
If you want help on The Common Application’s Prompt #4, read THIS POST.
Tomorrow I’m writing about how Oprah Winfrey talked about the nature of failure in the commencement address she gave the 2013 graduating class at Harvard University this past weekend.
You will see another reason it makes a great topic!
This is my post about Oprah and failure.
If you want some AWESOME advice, and ideas on how to think about the nature of failure, watch this short video:
Check Out These Related Posts!
Essay on Failure
Most people fail at some point in their lives. It’s a necessary and fundamental part of life. People have to generally fail at something before they find success – even though failure can be defined as a lack of success, an unsuccessful person, enterprise or thing, a lack or deficiency of a desirable quality. But failure is not a means to an end, nor does failure have to give any indication of permanence. What is permanent is not getting started in the first place out of fear of failure. To fail is to fail to hit one’s target, whatever it may be, but it doesn’t prevent one from trying again.
A lot of times, a person fails because they failed to adequately prepare for success. This extends to all aspects of life that people want to improve upon relationships, career-related objectives, and personal achievements. Most people want to a better life, have goals and things they want to do in life. A good deal of time and effort go into preparing for something important – any important undertaking. It seems that many people pursue success half-heartedly, with little effort and preparation, and they wonder why the fail. Preparation is the key to avoiding failure, or it at the very least minimizes one’s chances of failing. But it’s not always a certainty.
To lessen the likelihood of failure, one has to do things to maximize their probability of success. This can be changing one’s daily lifestyle habits, for one example. A person focused on accomplishing something, on creating success, will have to dedicate their free time to this cause. This means early nights and even earlier mornings, staying home and working instead of going out and spending money or wasting one’s time. Failure can often be attributed to a lack of commitment to success. Everyone – well, perhaps most people – strive for success. People as a whole don’t strive to fail at things in life. They generally want to excel at them.
Lifestyle habits are important when considering their effect on failure, but one’s mental habits are also a key part of success. A person convinced of their success, or that it will assuredly happen in the near future, will most likely be successful in life. They are seeing their success, what it looks and feels like, play out in their minds. This is the start of the Law of Attraction at work. The Law of Attraction is a theory arguing that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, a person can bring about positive or negative results. If a person yearns for success, thinks about it, dreams about it, always has their mind on it, the better their chances will be for them achieving success. This means they will be less likely to fail later.
Failure can also be prevented with the right kind of foresight. It is a highly discussed and much-believed notion that a person’s success occurs in direct proportion to their ability to see how everything, every decision that is being made right now, affects their life down the road. People who are prone to failure live mostly for the day, or the next few days, and they neglect to consider the future – even the distant future. This is probably one of the strongest indicators of whether a person will fail or succeed in life.
Success – in whatever form – is not an easy thing to come about, to find. Rather it is created from lots of hard work, preparation, persistence and unrelenting confidence. Failure, on the other hand, results from a lack of these things. To conclude, failure is the absence of success, and failure is also not a means to an end, but an opportunity to learn from failure. Everybody fails at some point in their lives. What matters most is moving forward and never giving up on success. It will happen soon enough despite failure.
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