"Describe a situation where you failed."

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." — James Joyce

"We learn geology the morning after the earthquake." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Sometimes not getting what you want is a brilliant stroke of luck." — Lorii Meyers

“One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.” – James Russell Lowell #failureessay #ouch 

"Fail early. Fail often. Fail forward." – Will Smith

Did you lose a job, a business deal, a competition, or a loved one? How did you regain your confidence?

Failure and setback stories are among the hardest admissions essays to write. My clients often struggle to find the right stories that showcase their ability to survive and thrive in the face of obstacles and frustration. They also wonder how much responsibility to take for what happened, and how to prove that they have learned their lessons. Here are the tips I use to help them to tell successful stories. 



What do they ask?


Why do schools ask these questions?

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson


What is failure?

"You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something."  – George Bernard Shaw

What is a setback?

Business and self-help books are full of cliches, like “Winners never quit and quitters never win”, and “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.” While they seem over-used, these aphorisms contain wisdom

A popular motivational speaker named Willie Jolley recently wrote a best-selling book called “A setback is a setup for a comeback.” In his book, the author emphasizes “faith, focus, and follow-through." Here is an edited excerpt that might help you organize your ideas and write your failure or setback essay.

How to Survive and Thrive Through any Business Setback: The four-step Process of Turning a Setback into a Comeback by Willie Jolley   

Has your business ever had a setback? Of course, it has. Perhaps your right-hand person left to work for your biggest competitor. Maybe your top salesperson quit without notice and took a few key accounts away. Even worse, perhaps you lost everything because of a bad business decision.

Whatever happened, whether it was a large or small setback, how you dealt with the issue most likely determined where you are today. Those who realize the setbacks are simply part of the business process usually thrive, while those who dwell on the problems of setbacks routinely falter.

A setback is a change that needs to occur to move forward. No matter what industry you're in, you're bound to have things change. The key is to remember that these temporary setbacks can empower you to reach greater levels of future business success. No matter what obstacle has plagued your business, following this four-step process can help you survive and thrive.


1. Focus Your Vision

Where you focus your energy determines where you will go. If you focus on the setbacks and challenges it brought you, your business can't move forward. However, when you focus on what you want your business to become, then you are using the setback as a transition.

2. Make a Decision

Both success and failure are decisions. Once your vision is in place, you have to decide you're going to win despite the setback. Successful business people choose to be successful. They understand that decision and choice are integral parts of the success formula.

3. Take Action

A decision without action is simply an illusion, and an action without vision is mere confusion. A vision plus decisive action can change the world.

Unfortunately, many business people never act on their decisions. While they have the best of intentions, they lack the determination and persistence that comes with taking action.

By acting on a decision, you're also taking responsibility for the setback. Once you assume responsibility for your actions, you're ready to move forward and attain your next goal.

4. Keep the Desire

Desire is the degree of energy you're willing to exert to reach your goal. Many business people give up because their desire falters. Either a new idea strikes them and they lose focus or they encounter another minor setback and become discouraged. To reach the new business goal you have set for yourself, you must have the desire to follow through with every action, even if it involves a degree of risk. While taking a risk might be intimidating, especially after a setback, it's a necessary ingredient to reaching your new business goal.

All successful business people have had setbacks. If you view a setback as a chance for future growth, you can bring every challenge to a positive outcome, and make a stunning comeback.


(found at http://www.allbusiness.com/management/786751-1.html; accessed 2011/07)

What constitutes a "good" failure or setback essay?


Too often, clients send me failure essays that I do not believe or care about. Do not play it safe!

When I read a failure or setback essay, I ask myself three questions:


1. Do I believe?


2. Do I care?


3. Do I want to work with this applicant in a project or study team? 


Vince's Four Failure Essay Rules

If you follow the four rules explained below, you will increase the chance that I, and AdCom readers, will believe and care about your story. Finally, if we finish your essay with a feeling that we would want to work with you in a team, then you will have successfully answered the question, and therefore increased your chances of being interviewed, and admitted.   


Show me the damage



Convince me it was your fault

Here are some questions to help you clarify how you caused or contributed to a setback or failure:



Show me what you learned, which might include 

Lessons about yourself and your feelings


Lessons about time management and project management


Lessons about persuasion and influence



Prove that you have changed

BEFORE - how you were

AFTER - how you changed

IMPACT - how does this accomplishment prepare you to contribute to MBA life and achieve your career goals?


Need a sample failure story? Please watch this



Q: Tell me about a time you managed a team that failed.

Need a break? If you get stuck while brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, or editing your setback essay, you might find it helpful to watch one of these famous “setback” movies. In each of these films, the characters encounter and overcome significant setbacks, and emerge stronger.



Still stuck? Here are some good brainstorming sites ▸ http://del.icio.us/admissions/brainstorming_failure


Information is subject to change. Please verify all data with the schools.