A couple years ago, I was given a task: write an essay for a college application. I tried to be original-in this one for NU, I extol the virtues of failure. It worked.Failure is not always bad. In fact, sometimes the most successful outcome emerges from the greatest failure. I myself am experienced and very successful in dealing with failures; that is, I know how to learn from them. Several of my most spectacular failures have resulted from my participation with the Odyssey of the Mind program.
Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international academic competition encouraging problem–solving and creativity in teams of students. Given a variety of problems, these groups of five to seven young people choose which to tackle, from recreating a scene from the Illiad, to constructing a balsa wood bridge, or building special purpose vehicles. Working under the guidance of coaches, they spend several months developing a solution to a specified problem. With the exception of budget and time restraints, the teams are limited only by their own creativity and ability. Finally, they present their solution for judges and an audience at local and regional competitions.
I have worked on teams to solve four OM problems. Throughout the course of preparing each solution, we were plagued with countless setbacks and oversights. We were forced to learn from our mistakes, and each fixed malfunction improved our total presentation. However, despite our fine-tuning, each undertaking still failed in its own ways. After every competition, my team would have a sense of accomplishment, but also a feeling that we could have done better.
I have gained much from these experiences, on two levels. At the most fundamental level, constructing the various parts of each solution strengthened my basic building skills. Creating a giant wooden slide for sorting mail helped me become a better carpenter, whereas working with the intricacies of building small cars improved my attention to detail. Converting a gasoline lawn mower to an electric vehicle gave me a better mastery of electrical wiring and metalworking.
More importantly, I have learned how to work well with other team members. A team is better able to brainstorm ideas, make decisions, and create a solution. Though each member possessed a different personality, everybody brought to the group individual talents and knowledge. It was this mixing of styles that led to our ultimate success. We accomplished much more as a team than if we had all worked alone. Together we experienced our failures and grew from our shortcomings. OM has taught me that confronting failure is the only way to benefit from it and achieve success.
Even in failure, my experiences with the program were fun. I look forward to an engineering education at Northwestern as a way to continue the enjoyment I have had with Odyssey of the Mind.
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