The Common App Essay That Got me into Duke

The prompt: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you? What did you learn?

I am the oldest in my grade and among my friends, so I have always been the first to benefit from all of the perks that come along with each additional birthday candle. I was the first to be allowed into a PG-13 movie, the first to get a cell phone - I had the shiniest flip phone on the block, and first to get my driver’s permit.  Being the first sophomore to whip into the school parking lot (with mom in the passenger’s seat) was by far the coolest of my firsts. As a perfectionist, everything that I got to do first, I wanted to do right. This would prove to be a problem when after many stressful highway merges and hours recorded onto my driving log, it was time to fill up my first tank of gas. I can integrate and inverse tangent, converse about my favorite pass-times in French, or beat any of my family members running the mile, but when it comes to pumping gas; you are looking at the wrong girl.

At my first attempt I struggled over just about everything: pulling up close enough, finding the gas latch, getting the gas to start pumping, even figuring out how to pay. I reentered the car smelling as if I had soaked my outfit in gasoline for 48 hours prior to putting it on that morning. Embarrassed and discouraged, I reeked and scowled the entire way home. The next week, after I had sometime to rebuild my ego, we tried again, and I will just say that the following weekend I had to invest in a new pair of shoes, which were not doused in diesel. The third time – sure to be the charm -- we tried a new gas station. I knew which side to pull the car up on, which type of gas to choose, and to ask for a receipt when I was done. I was ready to face the pump. I followed all the right steps, only to find that I must have missed something, because I could not get the gas to flow. I fidgeted and fiddled impatiently with all of the buttons and levers, but nothing gave. It was not until I had practically broken into a sweat before a helpful attendant came out to inform me that that particular pump was out of service. Surely this was a sign from the Gas Gods that gasoline pumping was not my calling.

Although failing at pumping gas is not the direst failure to suffer from, nor nearly my biggest, it has taught me a few things. For starters, I do not have a bright future working at a gas station; so sadly, I will not be pursuing that track. More importantly, I have certain strengths, but accomplishment in one area does not necessarily guarantee natural ability and success in another. Finally, being a perfectionist is not a great mindset to have in the real world, and learning to handle faults and flaws is key, no matter how trivial they may be. Now it has been two years since I received my driver’s permit and I can say that I’ve almost fully recovered from my unspeakable embarrassment and I have learned to cope with the face that I will never have a full tank without a gasoline fragrance accompanying my presence.