Common App Obstacles/Setback Sample 1

Essay Prompt

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Sample Essay

Beads of sweat pooled at the end of my nose. I watched as they wavered, finally falling, hitting my blue mat and exploding. I turned and observed the girl next to me. Her chair pose was perfect. Her knees were slightly extended, her torso was pulled back to a 90-degree angle, and she sank lower every time she exhaled. I felt jealousy well up inside my stomach; frustration soon followed. I quickly berated myself. There's no judging in yoga class, no comparing, and nothing but acceptance. Yet here I was, struggling with Utkatasana, aka chair pose, and enviously comparing myself to everyone in the room. It wasn't just the young girl with dreadlocks next to me; it was the older woman in the back, the man to my right, and the couple in front. I was breaking every single yoga rule ever created. I was getting frustrated, jealous, and worried about what everyone around me was thinking. "I swear I'm good at yoga!" I screamed internally.

I knew it was my ankles. Their inflexibility had been a problem when I rowed. I remember stretching and waiting day after day, frantically trying to spot signs of improvement. Alas, my ankles remained just as obstinate as ever. I wasn't surprised to discover that they were the culprits yet again. I immediately charted a course of action. I wasn't about to sit through class after class self-consciously beating myself up and coveting the chair poses around me. I knew how un-yogi of me it sounded. To be unaccepting of one's own abilities is the epitome of what not to do in yoga class. In most circumstances I try to abide by the principles taught in the yoga studio, but this situation grabbed ahold of my competitive side and ignited it. Competitive with myself because I thought I could do better and competitive with the people around me because I couldn't handle them perceiving me as anything less than skilled.

I know, it sounds a little crazy, but to put it in perspective: this was the first time I was failing, really failing, at something I loved. I cursed my ankles. I sat in chair pose every night. I tried to convince myself it was working, but every day in class it became more and more obvious it wasn't. Finally I had to choose: did I continue trying to fix something that, it was becoming clear, was unfixable, or did I give up yoga simply because I couldn't handle the anxiety I got every time the instructor yelled Ukatasana. I chose neither. Instead, I showed up to class, I exerted myself in my favorite poses, and when I heard the unavoidable call to chair pose, I sank as low as I could and stared at myself in the mirror. I didn't look around. I didn't fidget. I just sat. And breathed. And tried to just be. And after a few classes like this, I stopped caring about my less-than-stellar chair pose.

It's not the most compelling failure. I didn't overcome anything terrible. I didn't overcome anything in a heroic or life-altering way. But for me, overcoming the need to overcome was a challenge in and of itself. I've always imagined myself as flexible and easy-going, but that's not always the case. I like concrete plans, I like lists, and I like being prepared. I like all of this because it helps me to succeed. Unfortunately, sometimes my desire to be the best eclipses other important aspects. Sometimes there are situations where the success comes from the journey, as cliche as that may be, and where what I learn and what I experience is more important than my perceived idea of success. It's not always the case, and I don't think I will ever stop wanting to achieve things, but I've broadened my perception of what it really means to succeed.

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