The Olympic Mistake

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?

I wasn’t happy about the puzzled faces across the auditorium. The pensive frowns weren't exactly pensive. They were looking at the questions with absolute perplexity. I was standing in front of the projection screen, confident that my problems had been delicately crafted to perfection. My sole purpose to get all of them to appreciate the art of challenge was a failure.

It was six o’clock the day before the 10th annual Math Olympics, the sun was already setting, and my friend and I were still at school. Among the dimly lit classrooms and deserted halls, books sprawled open and computer screens overflowing with tabs were our only inspiration. With a marker in hand, we stared blankly at the crowded whiteboard, brimming with ideas we could not quite consolidate.

This time, we weren't trying to find answers but to create problems, specific types of problems that I was already familiar with, challenges that had always captivated my attention and awestruck me with their complexity. Doing them on my own or collaborating with my peers, I had solved these puzzles before.

When tackling these types of problems, we disrupt the order of a clean whiteboard by drawing messy diagrams and writing crooked formulas. For a moment, we pause and...

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