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

“Climbers, at your marks!” shouted the Chilean official in his thick Spanish accent. The musty air filled my nostrils before I let out one last, shaky breath. I wasn’t really supposed to be here. Luck was the only thing that had gotten me to a second-place finish at the national championships, which by some strange technicality qualified me to be present. Now, at the 2012 Youth Pan-American Climbing Championships in Santiago, it was painfully obvious how incongruous my fate was. I approached the bottom of the speed wall, struggling to regain the confidence that had allowed me to squeak past the qualifier and semifinal stages. I positioned myself on the three starting holds, with thoughts of “I hope” and “maybe” flooding my brain.

“Ready, go!”

I exploded off the ground, hoping desperately that my competitor would stumble and allow me to win. “Left hand to hold two. Right foot up. Two hands to hold three.” The recitations that usually ran like clockwork felt forced, and I could feel my body slowly separating from the wall. Almost instantly, it was over. Dangling near the bottom, I looked up to see my opponent complete the route, leaving me swinging, dejected.

I returned home overcome with feelings of failure, feeling like I had...

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