Monday, November 14, 2011

Challenge 13: Quit

I have challenged my students to write a college application essay of at least 300 words every day for 30 days, working off a long list of essay topics. Below is one of my attempts. (Note from the future: Out of about 50 students, 22 actually completed it. I tried but gave up after 18 days.)

#11. If you were to describe yourself by a quotation, what would the quote be? Explain your answer. (Dartmouth)

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it." --W. C. Fields

Some answers need no explanation. This is one. This is one quotation that tells you everything you need to know about me. But the prompt tells me to explain my answer, and so I will try.

This quote begins by letting you know that I do not always succeed. In fact, I am often a failure. I admit that I've failed in life. But that should also inform you that I try difficult things, things that are not easy. And so I sometimes do not succeed. But when I meet failure, I try, try again. I pick myself up, brush myself off, and try again. Not everyone does this. First of all, many people do not even try anything new; they just go with what they know, they do what they can do. Not I. I try. And when I fail, I don't give up. But eventually I quit. I'm reasonable. I know when enough's enough. There's no point in doing the same thing again and again. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Actually, this essay is going nowhere fast. Let me start over.

W.C. Fields was an American original, one of the first leading men of Hollywood. A comedian and actor, he invented the persona of the hard-drinking funny man. Without him, John Belushi and Jack Black would not be possible. In fact, when studying early films, one sees that Fields belongs in the league of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Groucho Marx. His quote about trying again but not being a damn fool about it is a classic example of his humor: start with a cliche and turn it into something new and funny. Some other famous quotes of his include: "If a thing is worth having, it's worth cheating for." "Whilst traveling through the Andes Mountains, we lost our corkscrew. Had to live on food and water for several days." This second one alludes to his alcoholism, which became his undoing. Some quotes attributed to him reveal a keen common sense: "A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money." "Never try to impress a woman, because if you do she'll expect you to keep up the standard for the rest of your life." And then some things he said were just hilarious, revealing a biting sarcasm: "I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally."

This essay is still going nowhere. What does a brief biography (mostly copied from Wikipedia) about a dead comedian reveal about me? Nothing.

I once read that great business leaders first failed at a business concept or two before finding the idea that really clicked. They learned from each failure. But each one knew when to quit, when to move on to the next idea. Although W.C. Fields seemed to be kidding, his advice makes sense in the world of business. I, however, am not really interested in business, so I guess this has little to do with me.

Let's see, this quote describes me because ... because ... oh, never mind.

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