From the Great American Think-Off!

Read All 10 Honorable Mention Essays Below, OR you can:

Read About the Debate Here

Read the 4 Finalists’ Essays Here

The 5 Honorable Mentions who Said FAILURE Plays a Larger Role in One’s Life Are:

Abdinasir Nourkadi, 19-Year-Old Student from Eden Prairie, MN

I was born in an unnamed ghetto on the outskirts of Tebourba, Tunisia. Without going into detail, I will say I’m forever grateful we made it to America. I grew up in a Section 8 housing neighborhood with other African immigrants. The experiences I noted while growing up make for an interesting case study in defense of failure’s significance. The kids I grew up with in my age range–referring to ourselves as the “Section Boys”–are the focus of my analysis.

From a young age, we developed a stoic understanding of how fortunate and successful we were in relation to our foreign counterparts. With time, this confident, hopeful outlook eventually degraded. Our government-subsidized settlement was located in a relatively wealthy city that juxtapositionally housed gated communities with celebrities, renowned physicians, and that guy who killed Cecil The Lion. It was trying attending class five days a week while listening to fellow classmates talk about foreign concepts like maids or elevators in their homes—my apartment didn’t have an elevator, I have no clue why Kellie, or maybe Kelly, could possibly need one. As time went on, our formerly stoic appreciation for life turned painfully sour. Our relative success was disintegrated by our comparisons to things like Kell(ie/y)’s elevator. We became ashamed of the conditions we were subjected to. The Section Boys, like many other American minority groups, developed a culture of non-success, or failure. Most of us lost motivation for further success if it looked anything like the people we were claustrophobically surrounded by.

Success allows an individual to delusionally continue dreaming, true failure metamorphosizes the self into an aware condition of being.

I spent weeks brainstorming arguments for both sides of this prompt. Until now, I’ve been making one crucial error: the shaping one’s life does not equate to one’s achievements.  Millionaires don’t kill themselves because of overwhelming success, but rather because of their failure to achieve an intimate or abstract goal of their creation. Section Boys, like millionaires, are extremely lucky in our respective aspects, so what was our failure?

One’s success becomes diluted when exposed to the possibility of their achievements being fickle and grandly unimportant. The millionaire may realize their inability to fulfill themselves with money, further exaggerating their internal pain and conflicts. A Section Boy might understand that no matter how much better his life is, others will always have more. At age thirteen, I was felt more jaded and experienced than most adults.

A lesson I learned very early in life was that success is simply a completion of an individual’s perceived goal. Once one achieves their fabled success, they may feel temporarily fulfilled–but it doesn’t often shape the content of their character. Failure is an inability to achieve a perceived goal. Once the individual understands that failure is merely being complacent with their never-ending cravings, they become actualized. Shooting for a target and missing isn’t enough to merit failure–giving up one’s dreams of ever striking the target is true, undiluted failure. From a young age, the realization that our efforts at success mirrored chasing a carrot on a stick was more than enough to make a group of poor, cheerless children suicidal. Back when we interpreted our conditions as a relative success, we were able to be ourselves and act accordingly–like children. We grew weary of not having clean clothes or adequate school supplies–which were things we wouldn’t even consider having back home. Failure modified our intrinsic qualities into something as equally morbid as it was profound. I’ve felt seventy years old ever since around my twelfth birthday. Almost all Section Boys stopped trying in school or going to the mosque. Success allows an individual to delusionally continue dreaming, true failure metamorphosizes the self into an aware condition of being. This actualization was not without consequence; we turned to drugs, crime, suicide, or developed severe psychological strains.

An individual who has experiences success is less willing to lose, as their current state is ideal. Failures, like myself, even with the severe side-effects, would prefer to lose. This seemingly nihilistic lifestyle is the only item that I authentically have control over. Success does not enchant, house, and exhaust an individual like failure does. The Section Boys became what they were, not because success was too strenuous to obtain, but because the charge of failure was a truth that was too difficult to grasp and wholly mutated our identities. I don’t experience failure to re-engineer my psychology for success, I fail so I may expose myself to truths and ideas that success would never dare to.


Donna O’Shaughnessy, Homesteader & Poet, Retired Register Nurse from Saunenin, IL 

Failure is everything. I can count on one hand the number of times I have failed, but for that number to be factual it would need to be multiplied by at least one hundred. Failure gets easier and more familiar as you age. In fact, I am suspicious when I attempt a new task, and it goes well the first time. Where did I go right? I might chide myself.

I’m not a pessimist, but rather a quinquagenarian deeply rooted in realism. Failure is as essential to a full and happy life as good whiskey with good friends in O’Loughlins Pub in Ballyvaughan, Ireland. It always bites a bit when it slithers down the back of your throat, but the sure-to-follow feeling of warmth and goodwill is worth the minor discomfort.

Of the multitude of failures, I’ve experienced, there are three whose memories still soothe and comfort me. The first was my failure to fact check. A trusting and innocent first grader at Our Lady of Lourdes on the north side of Chicago, I walked home for lunch on a bright April day in 1964.

On my return to class, I passed an upper classman, a very wise second grader, perched on the school steps. He informed me there had been a fire in the school’s cafeteria and the school was closed for the rest of the day. Skipping back home, I shared the news with my mother who sent me to the grocery store. She needed milk.

As I passed once again in front of my school, I saw Sister Mary Gerard’s well habited head, poking out of my classroom’s window, her lilting voice calling… Donna Marie O’Shaughnessy! Why aren’t you in school?! Apparently, I’d been the victim of false news. I ran back home for solace and comfort but only received advice not to believe everything I hear, and to get my butt back to school immediately.

So, to this day, I fact check obsessively. When I saw a Facebook post about our president’s recent tariff increases to China, I checked the Drudge Report for the original article, wrote to the author insisting that his source information be shared with me, and I even considered hiring a private investigator to do a background check on that writer. If I hadn’t experienced the little fire lie, I might believe everything I read on social media like millions of the less fixated do.

A second prosperous failure had to do with the finances of our farm. My husband and I worked for twenty years building a thriving organic meat business where we sold beef and pork to several high-end restaurants. When we decided to sell the farm business and live a simpler life, we faced four years of lookers but no buyers. Eventually we sold the property on contract to a couple with a poor credit history, and no down payment. But we were exhausted, and since they signed all the proper paperwork to ensure we’d be regularly paid, we took the risk.

One year and $100,000 later in payments due, damage to our farm house and livestock, we accepted the fact that we failed to choose the right people to carry on our hard work. Fortunately, and by the skin of our bacon loving teeth, we avoided bankruptcy. The farm later sold outright to a legitimate couple and we’re now settled on a small homestead where we make little money and grow food primarily for ourselves. We are less stressed and less dependent on others for income.

Failure is as essential to a full and happy life as good whiskey with good friends in O’Loughlins Pub in Ballyvaughan, Ireland. It always bites a bit when it slithers down the back of your throat, but the sure-to-follow feeling of warmth and goodwill is worth the minor discomfort.

Failure number three was a directional faux pas. I cut my wrists horizontally instead of the more effective vertical approach. I was just nineteen and medically uneducated. Depressed over a bad relationship and fueled with too much alcohol, I called in for work the next day (I have always been a responsible employee) and attempted to end my life.

Fortunately, my impatience kicked in and when I didn’t bleed fast enough I drove myself to the emergency room. The ER physician was a recent refugee who dealt with a slightly sadder life than my own. His family endured starvation and torture before he was able to flee, and therefore, he was abrupt and direct with me. What did I have to be sad about? Not enough TV? Too many gifts at Christmas? My Chevy Nova the wrong color?

He had a point.

I listened. I saw a therapist. I grew up. That botched suicide was the best failure of my life.


Susan Grant, Teacher from Addison, ME 

Failure and the Way Things Are

I love a good story. As a child, my grandfather entertained me with his tales. His stories were simple, covering the way life is especially when it includes a curve ball or two.  I also loved stories that make me think, such as A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962). One conversation within the pages has stayed with me through the years.

“We do not understand what this means, to see.”

‘Well, it’s what things look like,’ Meg said helplessly.

“We do not know what things look like, as you say,” the beast said.

“We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.” (p.181)

Many people have studied the way “things are” on this planet. These studies have specialized in several areas including physics, psychology, and sociology. All of them show there is a plethora of negativity, disorder, and failure that bombard people causing me to conclude that failures shape a person’s life more than successes.

In the world of physics, disorder is the way “things are”. The second law of thermodynamics states entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will increase over time. What I understand this to mean is order will break down to disorder or a tidy room will become messy (Lucas, 2015). Part of the way “things are” in life is, things break down. These things are not just limited to scientific matter. Objects, such as cars, beaches, and living beings all break down through time. Because this breaking down is a continual occurrence, people experience deterioration and failures every day. This second law of thermodynamics becomes more of a reality as we age. Our bodies fail and these things shape our lives through the years before we are ever ready to accept them.

The way “things are” in psychology also shows humans are more sensitive to negativity and failure. One example is negativity bias which is the phenomena revealing the brain has the inherent inclination to act and react stronger to disagreeable things rather than pleasant ones. One study on married couples concluded it took five times more positive interaction to balance out the one negative (Marano, 2003). Because we are more sensitive to negatives, it is logical to conclude that failures have a greater influence on the shaping of a person’s life.

 Sociologically, negatives and failures in relationships greatly influence people. As a middle school teacher, I have seen many students adversely affected by divorce. The children seem to internalize the bad and conclude they failed to hold their world in order, influencing their lives. The children who were not from broken homes were more secure but this influence is not proportional to the negative influences of children in a divorced home. I have also found if one student in a classroom has a bad attitude, the rest of the students find it easier to adopt the same mindset. If one student, however, is cooperative and positive, this does not seem to affect the rest of the class to the same degree. People’s negative actions influence others. Imagine one person standing on a coffee table. He is bending down to give a hand to another to pull him up on the table. Will this be an easy job or would it be easier for the one on the floor to pull the one off the coffee table? Yes, the law of gravity is a player in this illustration, but from a sociological point of view, it is fitting. Negatives and failures are a stronger influence on the shaping of a person’s life.

The way “things are” in psychology also shows humans are more sensitive to negativity and failure. One example is negativity bias which is the phenomena revealing the brain has the inherent inclination to act and react stronger to disagreeable things rather than pleasant ones.

When I consider the way “things are” in the areas of physics, psychology, and sociology, failure is of greater influence than successes. Because I understand this, I can attempt to combat these negative things. It is a battle worth fighting.


L’Engle, M. (1962). A Wrinkle in Time (p.181). New York, New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers.

Lucas, J. (2015, May 22). What is the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Retrieved March 16, 2018, from

Marano, H. E. (2003, June 20). Our Brain’s Negative Bias. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from


Julie Prestegard, Technical Writer from Rosemount, MN

When I was 24, my long absent father came to live with me for a short while.  Late one night, his return to the house was marked by the loud purr of an engine in the driveway.  He walked in and said, “Let’s go for a drive. Come see what’s outside.” In the darkness, I saw a shiny new Corvette.  Its curves were defined by the glow cast from the street light on the corner. I climbed into the passenger seat and he threw it in reverse.  On the empty road, we quickly accelerated to nearly double the legal limit. I felt the car’s power in my chest; the pavement was our runway and I swear we were going to lift off.  

About two miles from home, on our way back, I realized he was likely intoxicated.  The gravity of that moment will always be with me. A lot can happen in two miles. In a split second, still frames from a movie that didn’t exist flashed through my mind.  I’m not proud to admit I did nothing but hold my breath for those last few minutes. I failed to act, and my cowardice haunts me to this day.

Failure shapes us in profound ways.  It can be the outcome of a choice made in a moment, patterns we weave, or the result of conscious and unconscious choices.  It materializes as scars after repeat attempts, tears streaming that will seemingly never end, or regrets that keep us up at night.  Failure is dark and heavy and has the potential to be a devastatingly dangerous reinforcer.

Less obvious failures also compound and define our world.  Failure is much more than a negative result from a conscious attempt.  Failures to act, independent of motivation, write our story. We fail to forgive, connect, notice, believe, say no, take responsibility, or try.  Our omissions shape us just as surely as do our overt actions. We are all guilty of the failure to realize our own power.

Moreover, the failures of others shape our lives.  They etch into our psyche and become the hieroglyphics written in our souls.  We don’t always understand what has been done to us. Some circumstances in life are not chosen.  And it’s true, given enough time or severity, that other’s failures can contribute to our instincts becoming pathological.  A parent’s failure to be present, or to listen, guide, nurture, and be physically and emotionally responsible, can leave indelible marks.  Children do not knowingly create their reality.

My father’s absence played a significant role in my evolution.  He simply wasn’t there. I have no memories of him saying, “I love you” or “I’m proud of you”.  He never said much of anything. His absence was more than physical. As a teen, I became intensely driven, hyper-responsible, and outwardly successful.  I was accepted into a prestigious college and studied abroad. My choices and actions likely began as a desperate plea for his attention and acceptance. My eventual conscious awareness of his failures turned me into a mythical phoenix, rising beautifully from the ash.  Regardless of his intentionality, I was forever changed by his failure to visibly love me.

In my life, failures have become fuel.  Failures can be a period or a comma in our story.  Does failure, yours or others, drive you to ensure the past does not become the future?  Or do you become a drug addict? Do you use the emotions born from failure to solidify your reserve to do better and be better?  Or do you retreat, deny, or blame? Either way, your response will transform you. We cannot escape failure, nor should we want to.  It is a necessary part of the human condition. Our strength and ultimate success emerge from our ability to see failure with clear eyes.  Failure is an invitation. A beckoning call with inherent value. The depth of the lesson is created by us. An imprint will remain regardless.

Failure is inevitable; success is not.  I am not alone in being chiseled most by the failures in my life.  Paths appeared before me and were also created by me. Our failures allow us to transform; our response and the resulting outcome can become more powerful than the antecedent failure itself.  The degree, depth, and residual impacts are up to us. Often the most beautiful people are those who have been broken and put back together. Failure is an opportunity, bidden or unbidden, to become something far greater than we were.  


Ron Stewart, IT Manager from Coon Rapids, MN

Let’s get this out of the way: whether success or failure works best for a given person depends on the person. In general, though, failure is more likely to shape one’s life, and to do so more thoroughly. As I have learned failure brings to the table more powerful and enduring motivating factors than success.

Failure is not an easy thing to brag about in modern America. We celebrate the successes, we laugh at its opposite. It’s embarrassing to be the one to fall on the big stage. Every word uttered by the famous is nitpicked, every scandal aggrandized, ever misstep dissected. Nobody wants to be “that person” announcing the wrong film as Best Movie at the Oscars, misspelling “potato,” saying there are 57 states, or crowning the wrong woman Miss Universe. Yet failure is a profound teacher. There are three primary reasons for this, and one simple experience from my middle school days will help demonstrate them.

Up until I reached middle school grades had come easily to me. I rarely had homework and didn’t need to do much studying to keep near the right end of the class ranks. I assumed this was the way life would work. Then came a 7th-grade algebra test – specifically, a test with all sorts of questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. That first “F” was an eye-opener.

The first thing I took from this experience is that failure is a potent instructor. Failure teaches us where our gaps are and what needs to be better; it reveals opportunities to us. This one grade was the primary shaper of my education from that point forward in that it showed me I needed to put in effort to learn the hard things I didn’t know. This is not to say I learned the lesson perfectly as there were a few assignments or exams on which I could have scored better. But each poor effort renewed my focus and reinforced the shaping that started back in 7th grade.

 The second lesson I learned is that we remember our failures more than our successes. With apologies to my many excellent teachers, I couldn’t tell you much at all about any assignments, papers or tests from school – except for that 7th grade algebra test I failed. Likewise, I don’t recall many track race results from high school, but still wish I would have better paced myself in a 4×400 relay at regionals – a race in which we came in a stride from advancing.

We don’t easily forget our mistakes. These memories then spur change lest we end up continuing to miss out. Our memories provide motivation and impetus to change. There is a reason many organizations hold “lessons learned” meetings to discuss and document the mistakes made in the most recent project. From those institutional memories new processes or course corrections can be developed so the next project goes more smoothly.

 Finally, I note that failure breaks down ego. A large obstacle to changing ourselves – that is, the shaping we’re talking about – is the prideful thought that we don’t need to change. When we think we’re all good, there is no reason to change. When, however, we fail we break down our ego and start looking for ways to do better or become better. The aforementioned algebra test broke my pride about grades. Without that I would have maintained status quo and kept my bad habits. Nothing would have changed until, perhaps, I failed at something more important. Or even vital.

 In addition to removing ego as an obstacle to learning, failure shapes us in character when pushing pride aside. We become more compassionate and show more grace when others fail because we know what it’s like. We’ve been there, and the humanizing effect helps us see others as more alike us than we might perceive if we kept feeding our pride.

 In addition to removing ego as an obstacle to learning, failure shapes us in character when pushing pride aside. We become more compassionate and show more grace when others fail because we know what it’s like. We’ve been there, and the humanizing effect helps us see others as more alike us than we might perceive if we kept feeding our pride. My kids have reaped the benefit of my patience when they struggle on an assignment or test, patience borne of me “having been there, done that, learned from it.”

 Of course, failure best molds us when we handle it properly. It’s possible to misuse failure. There are some who run from change because they’re afraid of failing so much that they avoid taking risks. We need to accept failure as an opportunity to learn and grow in skills, wisdom and character. When we do, failure becomes a powerful ally in shaping us into better people.


The 5 Honorable Mentions who Said SUCCESS Plays a Larger Role in One’s Life Are:

David Lapakko, Professor from Richfield, MN 

There’s no doubt about it: failure is an AMAZING teacher.  I often think we downplay the importance of failure to our growth and development.  The lessons we learn from falling short or screwing up are often deep—sometimes even embarrassing, and frequently unforgettable—and they remain lodged forever in the recesses of our brain.

When I took wood shop in 8th grade, I learned that I could barely pound a nail or plane a block of wood; the universe seemed to be telling me that I was not going to make a living with my hands.  As a junior in high school, I thought I could be a basketball player, but, along with five other teammates, I was eventually cut from the squad. (In that sport, short-and-slow are a deadly combination.)  When I took Principles of Economics in college and received a very charitable grade of “D,” I determined that I was unlikely to land a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. And when I taught high school at the ripe old age of 22, I realized that I was in many ways a colossal failure—something else was going to have to be my calling.  In each case, failure taught me something valuable.

But as essential as failure may be, the lessons it provides tend to be of the “negative” variety—we learn what we did WRONG, or what we should NOT do.  In that sense, failures can never fully “shape” our life; they are like dead-end roads that tell us to stop and turn around, but not exactly what to do next. They don’t tell us WHERE to turn—they don’t provide a specific destination.   So what is the critical factor that really shapes and defines our ultimate destiny? Success.

But as essential as failure may be, the lessons it provides tend to be of the “negative” variety—we learn what we did WRONG, or what we should NOT do.  In that sense, failures can never fully “shape” our life; they are like dead-end roads that tell us to stop and turn around, but not exactly what to do next. They don’t tell us WHERE to turn—they don’t provide a specific destination.

Consider one-year-olds learning to walk.  They start by crawling, and then standing up, and then tiptoeing around furniture—and at each phase they are building on their success.  It’s their success at crawling that promotes their desire to stand up. It’s their success at standing up that prompts them to want to navigate around the coffee table.  And it’s that success which gives them the courage to make the long, uneasy trek from the living room to the kitchen. If all they did was fall down—in other words, if all they did was fail—they would never learn to walk.  Successes positively reinforce that we are headed in the right direction.

After I learned to walk—long after, actually—I started to run.  And as with walking, it was my successes as a runner that shaped the outcome—not the failures.  I started by jogging down to the river from my college campus—it was exactly two miles—and then I would walk by the river, catch my breath for a few minutes, and jog back.  But one day, I thought to myself, I wonder if I could simply maintain my stride, turn around, and make it an uninterrupted four-mile run? Sure enough, I could. That success led me to think, what about 6 miles?  8 miles? And so on. Eventually that meant running my first of six marathons, and more than 35 half marathons along the way. All of it was built upon previous success. “Shaping” one’s life involves a string of successes pointing in a definite direction, in a way that failure really can’t.

I never knew I had some academic talent until, as a young lad, I starred in class spelling bees and had a reputation for never missing a long division problem.  I never knew I was a good employee until I got some raises and promotions. I never knew I was a pretty good cook until people at the table started asking for seconds.  I never knew I could be funny until friends started chuckling at my lame jokes. I never knew I could be in a successful romantic relationship until I had one. And I never knew that I could make a difference in someone else’s life until several people told me otherwise.

Successes positively reinforce that we are headed in the right direction.

We all have key moments in our journey when we fail and succeed.  I think most of us, if we reflect a bit, realize that the defining moments involved not what we couldn’t do, but what we could.  Both failures and successes shape our lives—but successes shape them more meaningfully and with more precision.

The sentiment behind a famous proverb may be ridiculously obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: Nothing succeeds like success.


Matthew Pate, Criminologist from Pine Bluff, AR

In assessing whether success or failure has been more determinative in my shaping life, I depend on three core arguments. In the first instance, I understand that both success and failure are relative, subjective and non-discrete concepts. Second, I recognize that success is a frame into which we place those things that are pleasant and desirable, but not inherently required for self-realization or contentment. Third, success is a recounting of things that have happened. Whereas, failure is an acknowledgment of those that did not. This for me is the hinge pin: The prospect of being more defined by the infinite array of all possible things that did not happen in my life is nonsensical. I am the sum of that which has happened. I am the product of successes.

Few concepts are as slippery as success. It is easy to monotonically define success as a meter of wealth and the ability to consume. I know many people whose lives are decorated by all the indicia of financial success, yet they are insulated, burdened and unhappy.

I have everything I need. I don’t have everything I want. Am I then a failure because my ego tilts toward shiny things I don’t possess or control – things I will never possess or control? If so, no one can be said to be a success for there are always prizes beyond our grasp. We do not jump because we crashed into a hurdle. We jump because we want to fly.

Twined with wealth are the perils of fame and acclaim. No performer ever steps up to a microphone with the hope of being the proverbial one-hit-wonder. They want to be the star that lingers, twinkles and inspires. Is the singer successful only if a million people love the performance; or is the singer successful if the rendition is beautiful? What is her motivation: The next dissonance to correct or the next hundred perfect harmonies?

I am a criminologist. I am regarded as such because I completed degree programs in that area of study. I have published books and papers on matters relevant to that discipline. My reception within the profession is defined by the work I have published, not the awkward, untenable manuscripts still in the filing cabinet. To the degree my work has influence, it does so because it was regarded (either positively or negatively) by others with knowledge in the area. I will not be remembered for the books I failed to write. Moreover, I will not be remembered because my work was agreeable and pleasing to all who read it. Nor will I be remembered because it made me wealthy. If I am remembered, it is because my work was consequent. It prompted reflection. It ushered thought. It succeeded.

From these examples we can glean that success is neither tied to material gain, nor is it found solely in the esteem of others. By extension, we also understand that the absence of these things is not inherently a sign of failure.

There have been untold instances in my life when I did not write the great American novel, when I wasn’t the starting forward for the Lakers and when I was not an astronaut. None of these non-events has the definitional impact of the time I met my wife, Kathleen; or when I adopted my dog, Trooper; or when I was admitted to a doctoral program. I am defined by that which has happened, not what might have, but didn’t. Successes in judgment, timing and effort define my life course.

We all have instances when we didn’t get what we wanted. If we define ourselves by the anomic, boundless appetite of all life’s druthers, there is no possibility other than failure. This is nihilism. This compels only introspective paralysis, nothing more. The desire for success – even without the mirror of failure – pushes us to do more. It stands alone. It is the prime mover.

Success is a recounting of things that have happened, whereas, failure is an acknowledgment of those that did not. I am the sum of that which has happened. I am the product of successes.

I cannot know the effects of all things that might have happened. I can only know the consequences of those that have. My definition of self is only possible as the reconciliation of those experiences that are known and encourage further action. In short, only those positive reinforcements that emanate from successes – great and small – move, mold and direct my life.


Jonathan Goller, Undergraduate Student from Saint Joseph, MO

Success is life’s greatest motivator. It allows dreams and ambitions to flourish. A small success provides a taste of the excitement and pride that can be relished when the dream is finally achieved. Failure, on the other hand, is an obstacle. It is not a motivator, but rather something standing between a dream and reality. A man isn’t defined by his defeats. He is defined by his achievements.

To me, failures are like detours–they typically lengthen your route. But they are not the reason you keep driving. You keep driving because you have places to go.

 My mother comes from a low-income family. She was told from a very young age that a college education was nothing more than a pipe dream. My mother is one of the most intelligent individuals I know. Throughout high school, she earned remarkable grades and graduated as the valedictorian of her class. These successes that she had worked tirelessly towards for years motivated her to do the unthinkable and attend college. My mother was the first female in her entire family to attend college and the first individual to graduate. She graduated at the top of her class from a small public college in Wisconsin with a degree in dietetics. Her successes throughout high school and college motivated her to reach her full potential. However, my mother didn’t stop there. After graduating college, she applied for a very selective internship at one of the best hospitals in the United States, the Mayo Clinic. She was a long shot. She came from a small-town college that wasn’t revered for their dietetics program. But her impressive scholastic record earned her that internship. Her drive to dream bigger allowed her to achieve great things while the deck was stacked against her from the beginning. Her life and who she is entirely is shaped the successes throughout her life. Each success was a stepping stone to her next great thing.

 I learned my mindset from my mother. I worked diligently through high school and earn all A’s.  I was elected by my school’s chapter of the National Honor Society as the student that most embodies what scholarship means. I was given awards as the most outstanding math, physics, and chemistry student of my graduating class. I don’t include these details to brag about my accomplishments, but rather to illustrate how each success fundamentally altered my life, creating the man I am today. My rigorous course load in high school challenged me greatly. I was taking 5 college-level courses each year. My good grades up to this point motivated me to continue to push myself to try my hardest in every class. I was motivated not by the fear of failure, but by the excitement of achievement. I wanted to have good grades because that meant that I had learned something. I had grown as an individual. I was becoming the best possible version of myself. Being elected as the face of scholarship was an incredible honor. It meant that my peers viewed me as someone who not only performed well in school but was also excited about education. Being selected by my teachers as the most outstanding student in my three favorite subjects was the highlight of my high school career. My hard work was not only being recognized by me and my family, but also by my peers and educators. These awards were far more than I had ever dreamed of at the time and motivated me to be my best. Each of these details played a major role in my decision of where to attend college. My family is middle-class, and it seemed very logical to attend an inexpensive in-state Missouri college. On the other hand, I believed I had the potential to achieve great things at a larger, more renowned university. In the end, I chose to attend the University of Minnesota because I believed that it would challenge me and push me to achieve great things. In ten years when I look back on my years in college, I believe that my college education will have had the largest role in shaping my life. I’ve only been in college for two semesters and I already feel the impacts.

My successes are the reason that I am who I am. They are what led me to the place that I am. They are the reason that I dream what I dream and pursue my ambitions. To me, failures are like detours. They are often annoying, sometimes disastrous, and typically lengthen your route. But they are not the reason you keep driving. You keep driving because you have places to go.


Crystal Kelley from Eden Prairie, MN 

Many wouldn’t consider my life a success, let alone expect me to argue in its favor. I’m disabled. I have a genetic disease that fills my days with pain. But accomplishments like working hard to transform three excruciating post-op minutes on a bike into an easy 30-minute ride are alive within me.

I’ve recovered well from 17 surgeries. I’m loved; not by many, but by the most important few. I’ve helped people. There are many reasons for my success, but failure isn’t one of them.

Success is subjective. Americans often attach it to money and believe the two must coexist. Money can be at the top of the list if it’s important to the person possessing it, but it can be far down the list to someone for whom getting out of bed without help is a goal.

To set a goal is to imagine ourselves accomplishing a desired result. Success depends on our ability to picture it, and failure without the image or whisper of success cannot be overcome. Therefore, success plays the larger role in shaping our lives, even if that success lives within us and has yet to be realized.

The argument that getting knocked down inspires people to get up has a fatal flaw: if the boot of failure is on their neck when they’re down, they won’t be able to rise.

My father taught me I could do whatever I wanted if I just put my mind to it. “I can” was a way of life. Then 20 years ago, a car rammed into me changing me from a young mom with a promising career into one who had four incapacitating migraines a week. “I can” began to seem like a dream from the past. Just as I started to rally, I learned that the accident had flung open a door that was merely ajar my entire life, behind which lurked a disease that had always lived inside me. “I can’t” beckoned.

I chose not to follow. I knew I could fight because I’d done it before. Those triumphs were still part of me. I was the woman who learned to walk again after a surgery had hobbled me for three months. I could grab success again if I tried. So, I rebuilt my career around my pain and worked at home. As my disease progressed, I changed things to fit life’s new chapters.

It’s hard sometimes. Do I want to do physical therapy every day? Not always, but it’s the key to my being able to do the things that make life worthwhile, like picking up my grandson from preschool or caring for my disabled son. It takes continual hard work and constant belief in myself.

The first time a major newspaper published an opinion piece I’d written, an aspiring writer asked how I got published. I told her that when I sent it, it never occurred to me they wouldn’t publish it. She said, “I never send my stuff to anyone. They probably won’t think it’s good enough.” Her failure to get published lay in her paralyzing inability to see her own success.

If you can’t see it, you won’t try, and if you don’t try, you won’t succeed.

Who doesn’t love the guy who was horribly injured yet worked his way to a Super Bowl victory, or the homeless woman who wins a major talent competition and a record deal? Their stories don’t have to mirror ours for them to affect a change in our lives. Watching people succeed despite the vicious things life threw at them makes us feel good because it helps us see our own potential and ability to overcome obstacles. We don’t love those stories just out of altruism; we love them because they inspire us to achieve.

For failure to shape our lives into success we must be able to imagine the possibility of a successful outcome. The argument that getting knocked down inspires people to get up has a fatal flaw: if the boot of failure is on their neck when they’re down, they won’t be able to rise.

Believing in our ability to succeed is habit forming. Each year I visit a competition’s website to read a question of great philosophical importance. Then I wonder if I can see myself winning. This year, I see that I can.


Dr. Derek King, Holistic Chiropractor, Kinesiologist, & Author from Murrieta, CA 

“Failure is just an opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.”

Pain versus Pleasure. The carrot or the stick. Most people would choose the positive.

Successes have shaped my life more because I haven’t learned from my mistakes–yet.  Of course I know the mantra, and “think” I’ve learned from past failures, but mostly I have just tried to forget them and move on to the next shiny object.

Reflector bumps and guard rails DO get our attention while driving- and catastrophic economic investment losses will scare us away from signing contracts prematurely in the future; however, I am drawn forward by successes.  I want more of those. Kudos, at-a-boys and pats on the back are more memorable and encouraging!

Focusing on “whatever is noble, right and pure” (Phil 4:8) Scripture says and the endorphin rush gives us warm fuzzies all over. This fuels the next decisions and opportunity grabs.  Life is never stagnant and there is always another distant beach to visit, castle to explore or patient to heal.

As a holistic chiropractor specializing in neuro-emotional trauma release, I spend each day hearing about patients’ past Hurts- and many of them are old and deep.  So, I believe I could make a great case for the opposite point! People still suffer from little and large PTSD’s. Everybody’s got a few. Failed business, failed marriages, old concussions, stolen identities, old drug abuses, and major family miscommunications that are still running their brain and body from memory engrams (scientifically documented and proven).  These cause dis-ease, weakness, syndromes and even cancer! I help to update these “corrupted files” and “re-boot the brain’s subconscious computer” to get it back into healing mode quickly.

Anyways, I know that failures, not Learned from, negatively influence people’s lives, no doubt; however, I have had mine cleared and forgiven. So, for me personally, successes are my bellwether.  I believe there is a law of attraction/ as ye sow, so shall ye reap plan to this universes; so I try hard to put that to work for the positive.

Success and character are “following through on a decision long after the excitement of the moment has passed.”

I am drawn forward by successes.  I want more of those. Kudos, at-a-boys and pats on the back are more memorable and encouraging!

Seeing a person get stronger allows me to sleep very well at night.  Finding the Cause of someone’s migraines is like a huge AHA for me (and them)!  Discovering an old birth trauma that has short-circuited their immune system and caused them to be sickly and feeble their entire life is like hitting a grand-slam home run for me.  These successes drive me to treat more people, write more books, and explain the technique and philosophies again and again.

I’ve lost $150,000 in stocks and mining investments—yet, I put more money into cryptocurrencies… I’ve “prepared for the worst,” yet I fund new adventures and donate to worthy causes.  The success of others tells me it’s possible. Not wasting money on long-shot lottery tickets, but keeping my faith and finances moving. Success is liquid. And both success and failure aren’t permanent (unless one totally gives up and quits)!  “Though a righteous man falls seven times and gets up again…”(Proverbs 24:16) WILL fall, not maybe… So I choose to let past, present and future successes influence my life and choices more.

I didn’t always believe/know/act on this.  It took reading thousands of books, attending decades of sermons, and many multiples of motivational seminars and CD’s to absorb these simple truths.  Every day is a great day! A gift to enjoy, benefit from and use to serve others with.

People are shaped by their past, no doubt. Great topic question. For me, success brings profit, accolades, more opportunities, and higher self-esteem– rather than baggage, issues, hurts and hang-ups.  It’s each person’s choice. The past must be dealt with- and one’s faith is important. Thank GOD for forgiveness and mercies. Anyone who would argue the opposite is tainted and in sorry shape. Trust me, I see them every day suffering from undealt-with emotional ghosts!

In conclusion, I believe I shape my future life on memories and experiences of beneficial successes that add fuel to my goals, dreams and desires for more in the future.  I would relish the opportunity to discuss and debate these amazing choices in your Think-Off in 2018 because life is too short not to ponder the great questions and ideas.

“To have failed is to have striven, To have striven is to have grown.” Maltbie Davenport Babcock. Therefore, every “failure” can be made into a “success”. And we each get to choose!