Broken Test Tubes Can Lead to Success

By Lisa Bleich

“Julia is going to kill me!” I moaned when I discovered the broken test tube in my backpack.

We had taken the sludge test home to try to finish the final project for IPS (Introduction to Physical Science), having failed to finish the project in class. And now the remains of our sorry excuse for a science experiment were splattered all over the bottom of my backpack.

Tears streamed down my face and my heart quickened as I tried to figure out how to break the news to my best friend and lab partner.

Thankfully Julia forgave me when she saw how distraught I was. Yet we still had to figure out what the sludge was or risk getting an F on our final project. We quickly gathered our data and started looking for clues from what we had collected before my fatal mistake.   We called up all of our friends in the class and jotted down the properties of their experiments. As we pieced together the missing data, we started to find patterns by comparing the aggregated results to our own findings and what we learned in class.

The answers started to emerge as we filled in the pieces of our broken puzzle. Through our own deductive reasoning and a little help from our friends, we ended up getting one of the highest grades in the class – but the grade was immaterial.

Julia and I still talk about that IPS mistake/miracle. In fact, our future success can be directly linked to that experience because we learned that a bump in the road –in this case a broken test tube- does not a catastrophe make. Ironically after I dried my tears and realized the world was not over, we became confident in our ability to synthesize data and make assumptions from imperfect information and also to learn to see patterns. Julia referenced this when she was talking about how she approaches making deals as an entertainment attorney; she never knows all the answers going in, but she is able to piece together the solution by asking the right questions and looking for patterns. I do the same as help clients figure out the best path or understand trends in college admissions.

So as you answer the Common Application essay prompt:

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Think about an experience that may have made you cry or moan, where you thought it was the end of the world, but ultimately you found a way to succeed in spite of or perhaps because of the failure.

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