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Big Failures and Little Wins

Adam Wong '17, Mike Skerrett '18, and Nicky Hirschhorn '16 perform in the IGP Freshman Show.

The striped ties were what first caught my attention. Glaring ties, clearly advertising that the wearers were in a group. Then I got closer and I saw that it was not just any group. It was an improv group.

I love improvisational comedy: I always have. Immediate Gratification Players were advertising their auditions, and I was more than a little tempted. Then the kicker: “No experience required.” The guy handing out fliers had never done improv in his life until he joined IGP. Well, I thought, I only have nine years of experience under my belt. That might be a leg up.

Soon I found out that there were three improv groups on campus. All of them seemed open and fun and advertised directly to first-timers. I auditioned for all three and felt pretty good about myself. Sure, there was a lot of talented competition, but I had a lot of experience.

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More than that, though, was the feeling I got during auditions. I felt like I fit in for the first time since arriving on campus. The energy was familiar. I knew how to relax into that theater vibe, how to let go of forethought and over-planning. How to be anyone I wanted to be for an hour or two.

I looked forward to my back-to-back auditions all week. I could not wait to join one of the troupes and be a part of a community. I could not wait to see the callback lists.

Three auditions, three days, no callbacks. I tried to play it down and hide my disappointment, but I was really upset. It was a flat-out rejection. It was being told that I was worse than first-timers. I had spent nine years doing improv, and now I had nothing to show for it.

I failed, and it hurt. I have to say, at this point I did not have much experience with failure. For me, and I’m sure for most students at Harvard, failure was not a common occurrence in high school. I was generally good at the things I did. I was not always the best, and there were a fair few things where I was maybe the worst (I am looking at you Junior Varsity Dance Team), but outright rejection was not something I was familiar with.

And it did not stop with improv. Soon thereafter I got my all-time lowest test score, homework and comps kept piling up, and I simply felt like I could not win.

This is the point where I am supposed to talk about the importance of failure. I should say that it leads to personal growth and builds character. The truth is I cannot say that; not yet, at least. I am too entrenched in the failure. I cannot yet look back on an ongoing experience with the benefit of hindsight.

What I can say, though, is that failure is unavoidable, in life but especially at this school. There are just too many incredible people for anyone to be the best at everything. As my roommate likes to say, “You lose some, you lose some!”

In order to cope with failure, I needed to redefine my idea of success. This environment may tell us that success means one thing. That success is a specific path you have to take. That success is being the best and always coming out on top. In reality, that is an impossible standard and can only lead to seeing every step forward as a failure. We need to define success in our own terms. It can be as simple as making friends laugh or speaking up in class. Success can be achieving small goals and making incremental progress toward new ones.

And if I cannot avoid failure, I can try to guarantee success. I have started to carve out little wins throughout the day. Go to the gym in the morning, do my laundry, finish my problem set. By setting realistic goals and achieving them, I give myself the confidence boost I need to tackle bigger tasks, tasks that may result in failure.

But failure will not stop me from trying. I will not lower my standards or settle for less. I am still going to go after the things I care about and work as hard as I can, win or lose. However, I will not say that consistently losing is something I am okay with. It’s hard. So, I need to break up the big failures with little wins. Eventually, I will score big. Maybe soon I will be writing another article about how failure built my character, led me to success, and can do the same thing for you. In the meantime, I will keep learning, keep failing, and keep on celebrating the small victories. That is the best I can do for now, and I am okay with that. Sometimes things won’t go my way, but I can always stay positive and improvise a new solution. With this kind of improv practice, maybe my auditions will go better next semester.

Romy Dolgin, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Lowell House.

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