Princeton Common App Essay: Failure



Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

I don’t know what hit me first, the sight or the smell of the dead pig. It must have been dead for a few hours as the smell had begun to condense around the table. I could still see the purplish bruise left from where my uncle clubbed it, and the sanguine laceration underneath his leg leading to his heart, still dribbling blood. The pig’s expression was a mixture of confusion and pain, unaware what was happening until it was too late. I didn’t realize, however, that I was blocking my uncle from passing until he shoved me aside and motioned me towards the table. With each step I took, the air thickened with a mix of rotting death and whiskey that only a dead pig and my uncle’s presence could provide. My uncle turned to me brandishing the rustiest knife I’ve ever seen from a sheath in his belt, handed it to me, looked me in the eye, and said, “I need you to cut up dinner for us.”

Two years ago was my first time visiting the sitio, a recreational farm, built by my uncle since I last visited Brazil. Upon arrival, my uncle stated his intention to “beat the city life out of me” through work in his usual jovial manner. He proceeded to sit back and open up a bottle of whiskey while I fed the donkeys and created a makeshift irrigation system out of a punctured hose I interspersed through his crops. Despite attacking all the previous chores with aplomb, I was dumbstruck while alone with the pig. I couldn’t take another step closer for fear of succumbing to the noxious odor worsening by the second, nor could I raise the shaking knife in my hand. Minutes passed, and my mind raced. “This knife is so rusty, is this even sanitary? What if it poisons the pork and we eat it and die? Avunculicide, matricide, and suicide via a single pig- that’s got to be a record. What if I mess up? I think I’m going to puke.” Before I could follow up on that, my uncle walked back inside, noticed I was failing at my task, and snatched the knife away from me while I retreated into the kitchen. Eventually, he emerged uncharacteristically silent and blood-soaked, then he sat down next to me and poured himself another drink, clearly disappointed in me. After a few minutes of silence, he looked up and with whiskey on his breath said, “You can’t be afraid of messing up. Some things need to be done, and you’ll have to step up.” And with that he walked away.

My first response was to never eat pork again, a short-lived promise as dinner that night was pork and the carnivore inside me shall not be denied. More importantly, however, I realized that the idea of failing and disappointing someone terrifies me. Thus, I had limited myself by only partaking in activities that I was certain to succeed in, such as learning music, and participating in the Library Council. These activities are very important to me, but they only require you to put in effort to succeed. My uncle, however, tried to explain that I should be willing to take risks and have more faith in myself. Recently, I’ve taken my uncle’s words to heart and have opened myself to growth, and while I haven’t escaped my fears, I’ve used them as motivation to succeed in new endeavors, such as founding the Current Events Club, and joining Mock Trial and Improv Club. These activities all require you to risk failure in order to succeed, whether through an objection, a skit, or creating and promoting a new club. This incident has led me to excel in these activities, and has made me willing to take necessary risks in order to succeed throughout my college career and the rest of my life.

Published in Common Application Essays, Successful College Essays, Successful Princeton Essays

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