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Olympic failure

I love watching the Olympics. Who doesn’t? Not only do they provide a great opportunity to be patriotic without worrying about being political, it’s also pretty amazing to see what those athletes can do with their bodies.

About a week ago I was watching the men’s team gymnastics competition. The Romanians, Japanese and Americans were in first, second and third place respectively heading into the sixth and final event, the high bar. The first two Romanian competitors performed well enough to keep the team in contention for the gold medal. The fate of the team rested on the shoulders of their last gymnast. As he neared the end of his routine he attempted an extremely difficult and daring release move. He flipped and twisted over the top of the bar, extended out his arms… and missed the bar.

As usual when a gymnast makes such a “major” mistake, the announcers lamented that he will certainly remember this for the rest of his life and that he will be kept awake for many nights to come replaying this fall.

Watching this, I almost felt like crying for him, even though I didn’t want Romania to beat the United States. I couldn’t help but remember that feeling from when I did gymnastics—I would feel as if my life was over, although if I had thought about it rationally, it certainly wasn’t. Even for the Olympians, who had been training nonstop since they were toddlers, life wasn’t over.

As I thought about how difficult it is to be an athlete in a sport were the goal is perfection, my mind drifted to my classmates at Duke. We too have spent most of our lives trying to be perfect. I’m not trying to write yet another article about the effortless perfection that our campus was obsessed with last year. I’m only referring to the “do everything you can, do it better than anyone else, take no excuses and never accept failure” type of determination that most students here have.

Obviously, in order to get in here, we must have been driven. We got A’s in honors and AP classes, aced the SATs, did every extracurricular activity known to man and still managed to have a life. We accepted nothing short of the best from ourselves, and that’s why we are where we are today.

Unfortunately, many students here have taken on attitudes similar to those of the gymnasts. Surrounded by over 6,000 people who were all among the best, it becomes hard to stay on top. I have watched too many people freak out and dwell on low grades. I wish they could see that there is nothing wrong with getting a few bad grades. They will not keep you from getting a job or going to grad school and won’t end your life.

The start of the new school year is, for many people, a time for new beginnings academically. If you are anything like me, you’re probably thinking about all the reasons you should have or could have or would have done much better last year. If you’re a freshman, you’re planning out how to survive this year.

At a time when most of the advice you will receive will tell you to do better, try harder and do more, I’m going to suggest something a little different. Be the best, try the hardest and do the most that you can do, but realize that mistakes and failures are not horrible life-altering events. Life will go on afterward and odds are you won’t even remember them after some time has passed. When you dwell on mistakes or shortcomings, you become obsessed with them and can no longer enjoy what you are doing. Your years at Duke should be some of your best, both intellectually and socially, so don’t ruin them by spending too much time preoccupied with letters and numbers that in the end mean much less than everything else you can do here.

 

Lauren Fischetti is a Trinity sophomore. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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