Author Archives: John

Eight Words & One Chance, by Stephanie R.

As I stood behind the blocks, my heart was racing. I could feel my stomach churning in excitement. I had never been so ready to swim in my entire life. This was my first chance in high school swimming to compete in a conference championship meet. Right as I was about to step up to race, my coach pulled me aside. I waited with hope to hear words of encouragement, positive comments, and the usual “you’re going to do great” speech.

The words he said to me have forever been stuck in my head.

“Don’t mess up. This is your only chance,” my coach stated.

Oh and how those words jinxed me. I froze in fear behind the blocks. My shoulders tensed. My legs suddenly felt like jello, and my jitters became apparent throughout my body. What if I don’t place or get a best time? What does Coach expect? Maybe he thinks I am not ready for this race after all.

All of a sudden the whistle blew and my mind went blank. It was time to get up on the blocks and race.

“Don’t mess up.” Those words were like a broken record playing over and over in my head.

I felt sluggish in the water, my timing was off, and my turns were bad. I felt as though I was swimming through quicksand, slowly making my way towards the finish. The race was finally over and I knew without looking at the scoreboard that I had fulfilled my destiny. Not the destiny of a best time that I had been dreaming about all season; but, rather a destiny set for me 5 minutes before the race of “don’t mess up.” Those long hard weeks I spent training were for nothing. With my shoulders hunched over, I shuffled over to my coach’s stern face looking down upon my tear-welled goggles. He didn’t say anything; after all, what was there to say.

In that one race, and with those eight words, my coach made me question my goals and abilities, and shook my self confidence. Nevertheless, the next day I went back to club swimming. Rather than taking the normal 6-8 week break like I had in my previous years, I was back in the water. I channeled my frustration into my practices. I worked harder, I felt stronger, and I felt faster. Then it was time to compete again at winter regionals. Instead of excitement, I felt fear. As I stood, waiting for my race, one of the younger swimmers came up and asked me, “Why do you swim?”

All of sudden, it hit me—the answer that is. I swim for myself. I swim to be healthy, to show respect and friendship to my teammates, and to coaches and officials, to be gracious in defeat, humble in success, and to be proud of small achievements as well as big ones. Winning a race, or even swimming the fastest time was not a more important goal than giving 100% effort to do my best.

Every day, I wake up early in order to make morning swim practices, I push through pain to make myself stronger, and I never fail to make the goals I set for myself. This sport has taught me discipline and dedication; instilling in me a work ethic I would not otherwise have. Without disappointments in life, successes would not be treasured memories. The hours of practice and years of hard work have made me a champion, and never would I let my self-worth be judged by one race or one performance again.

Turning obstacles into opportunity, by Justin T.

When faced with adversity or encountering a major obstacle in my life, I think of a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King. The saying states,”The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”Growing up, I’ve experienced many setbacks throughout my childhood. Whether it be moving from place to place or me adjusting to high school. I spent, on average, two or three years at every school I went to during my elementary school years. My experiences taught me to not take certain relationships for granted and get to know more people. They also gave me some perspective on people from different places and different cultures.

For me, moving was a great learning experience and taught me to not take my relationships for granted. I had close friends whom I had never said goodbye to. Every time I moved, I never really got to say a proper goodbye to some of my close friends. It’s always felt like something was missing, sort of empty. Preparing to move to Hinsdale, thoughts of old friends and some family members left behind filled my head. Thinking of my friends, I wondered if I would ever see them again. Knowing that I’ll be in a different state in a different region for the next four years made the feeling even more intense. While on the road from Arizona to Illinois, we experienced many different types of weather. It was during the Summer. So we went through dry heat, humid heat, and windy climates. The ride was pretty long, so it gave me lots of time to reflect.

When I had first arrived at my new home, the days leading up to the beginning of my freshman school year became seemingly endless. The minutes felt like hours, and the days felt like weeks. I woke up the morning of my first day of high school and wondered how different the people at Hinsdale would be than my old school. On my first day here at Hinsdale Central, I didn’t know anyone. But, I did know that I was going to stay here for all four years, which made me more comfortable in my own skin. The move made me wonder,”What’s next?” There were still adjustments for me to make coming to a new school on a new level and higher curriculum. I had some major adjustments that had to be made. Freshman year, I struggled and felt that I needed to catch up with the more advanced curriculum. But, as the years went by I have seen a gradual improvement throughout my four years of high school and have adjusted pretty well to the environment. During the first week of school, I realized that it wasn’t that much of a difference between the people that went to my old school and Hinsdale.

Regarding the differences in pace, it was noticeable. Keep in mind that this was pretty much the biggest move of my life. At my previous schools on the west coast (Arizona), they never really rushed things. Here in Illinois, I noticed that it’s much more fast-paced. That being said, I had to change how I do things overall.

As Winter approached, the difference in weather between Arizona and Illinois was extremely evident. I had never really experienced snow beside when I visited my family in Chicago. There is a big difference between visiting and actually living here. The first winter was the harshest, and the weather got the best of me. Temperatures were sub-zero, which I had never experienced.
Reflecting upon the adverse times in my life, I think that I’ve adjusted quite well to the environment, speed, and curriculum. With these experiences, adjusting to the campus in a new city should be an easier transition and I will utilize my ability to adapt.

Failure and Success, by Jeremiah B., age 20, Flint, MI

Here I’m going to talk about a failure/challenge that I’ve overcome at a point of time in my life.  I also will be describing how I showed resilience, persistence and determination.

First, I’m going to talk about a challenge I overcome.  At least two or three years ago I was attending Academy West, I had got expelled towards the middle of the school year.  I had ended up going back to the street life of flint trying to find my way, but of course that didn’t work out, during that duration of that year till the end.  I ended up getting locked up for 90 days.  After I completed my time, it was time for school again.  It was going on 2016 of course I wasn’t feeling it, I already was angry and mad.  I just made it back home.  But my first day of school was good but down the road I couldn’t give up the streets, it’s like they were calling me on a cell phone.  My mom used to tell me the streets will always be there, school won’t.  Well, I disobeyed because the streets was making me money, not school.  Eventually I was just going to school like once a week, then so on down the road a few times a month.  It was something about the money and streets, I just thought money was better than school because I can buy anything I want and never worried about nothing no more.  I was even getting more females off my recognition.  I felt loved and cared cause I was getting money and females.

Secondly, I’m going to talk about my resilience.  How I maintained and become a better person.  Well it’s 2017 and its time for school again.  I didn’t want to attend because I was 20 and it didn’t feel right.  But one person come back in my life and it was shocking because I never thought about him because he was never around.  But, my dad came back and I don’t know what it was but my dad just made me want to go harder.  It was like a burst of speed and now I’m in open field on my way to score the winning touchdown.  My determination was increased even my grannie gave me more confidence.  I eventually started to get myself together/straight, I was going shopping more and was making money the right way and not the illegal/wrong way.  I stacked up on a lot of Jordans, I even had a lot of my favorite jeans, but overall I just was coming up and I knew instantly I was doing something productive and smart cause I was getting rewarded with certain things.

In conclusion, I’m currently completing class and attending school full-time with no absences.  I also feel very determined on graduation and making my mom and dad proud of me.  Thank you for reading my story on how I overcame a challenge and showed resilience.

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The Story of Success

The Beginning
1: Know thyself.
2: Try everything.
3: What is your vision?
4: Confront your fears.
5: Start!

The Journey
6: You will stumble!
7: Try again.
8: Find your path.
9: Remember your vision.
10: Enjoy the scenery.

The Process
11: Make it a habit.
12: Find a partner.
13: Track your effort.
14: Never give up!

The Destination
15: Reach for understanding.
16: Mentor others.
17: There is no end.

The Ring of Life

One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.”

“If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a jewel merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet.

“Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.

He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity.

“Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled.

To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.”

At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

The paradox of control

We own our own lives. Every action, thought, choice, decision, or path we take is of our own doing. At the same time, each of us is subject to the ever- present challenges and forces external to our own existence.

So is there a meritocracy? Or is there simply luck? The simple truth is that both are true. If you are faster you will win the race. If you are taller, you will win the rebound. Or will you? As much as height improves your chances of being a basketball success, a quick review will turn up dozens of height- challenged basketball successes. Similar efforts can generate lists of business successes who started out dirt poor, literary giants with poor education, and other heroes who had no business succeeding.

So what is the point of this? The clear take-away from this paradox is this: we can choose to improve our circumstances no matter what the situation. And that is the greatest truth. We cannot possibly dictate the circumstances that created our existence, but we can absolutely dictate our respond to those circumstances. Instead of glowering at the unfair past that dumped us where we now stand, we can turn to face the future and make it our own.

Walt Disney’s father discouraged his cartooning and drawing. Disney’s first business partner stole his first cartoon character, and poached every one of his employees except Ub Iwwerks, his first hire. Despite these challenges, he persevered, kept moving forward, and made his life his own. Beethoven went deaf. But instead of choosing another career, he stuck with music and composition, and wrote nearly 100 more compositions before he died. Michael Jordan was kicked off of his high school basketball team because he wasn’t good enough. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he used the frustration of denial to motivate his practice.

Everyone has valid excuses to fail. But the paradox of success is recognizing those reasons, and either addressing them, solving them, or simply ignoring them. Our lot is miserably unfair. Forgive the past. It cannot be changed. Face the future; it flows towards you now.

Courage quote, from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

Great book, get it, read it. Highly recommend it.

The following quote was put on my desk a few days ago:

Confrontation takes considerable courage, and many people would prefer to take the course of least resistance, belittling and criticizing, betraying confidences, or participating in gossip about others behind their backs. But in the long run, people will trust and respect you if you are honest and open and kind with them. You care enough to confront.”

What courage can you show today? Confront the source, don’t hide and gossip.

Calvin Coolidge on persistance

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”

John Calvin Coolidge Jr., thirtieth (1923–1929) President of the United States

One of my motivational speeches

My name is John Norton and today I’m going to talk to you about the contradiction of failure and success. There are a lot of books out there that talk about success and failure….that order sounds a little better off the tongue…..but the deepest truth is that the greatest success always follows some kind of failure so today I will talk of the paradox of failure and success.

For this talk I will address three points of success. I have taught in the freshman engineering program for about 4 years here at Michigan, and I present my students with three characteristics of success: Vision, Overcoming Failure, and Multiple Routes.

I will provide examples of well-known successes who experienced considerable failure in their careers. Finally, I will describe the characteristics and attraction that true failure has for each of us. “True” failure, you say, what do you mean by that? John, I’ve failed 100’s of times, 1,000’s of times.

Ahh, but you are not a true failure if you are still trying, and that is the paradox of failure and success.

A paradox is a contradictory statement, one that conflicts with expectation. The paradox of failure and success is that only failures never fail, and almost all successes had numerous failures. So then, what should we do to achieve real success? The first step is vision.

Thomas Edison, founder of General Electric and holder of more patents than anyone else in history had considerable vision. Edison worked for more than two years to improve the lightbulb, it was already invented by other folks, but the problem was the filament, it would burn out after just a few minutes. Edison had a vision of a working lightbulb where the filament would last for months. Edison and his team at Menlo Park tried over 6,000 different filament materials, including thousands made from plants and animals, as well as every metal and mineral available. Can you imagine that scenario? Well, that didn’t work, let’s try again. Well, that didn’t work, let’s try again. Well, that didn’t work, let’s try again.

6,000 times.

When do you stop? And when you stop, you fail.

Edison could not picture any experiment as a failure. Instead, he held a picture of success in is head, a vision of what he thought could be. As Edison’s biographer Paul Israel writes, “Edison saw every failure as a success, because it channeled his thinking in a more fruitful direction.”

The paradox: truly successful people use failure to drive their success. Edison had a vision of what the light-bulb could be, and so he worked to create it.

The first step to success is Vision. Have a vision of where you want to be. This one is obvious, if you don’t have any goal, all the effort in the world won’t help you get there. The clearest example of this in society is when established scientists and engineers give demonstrations to elementary school students, especially inner city schools with typically disadvantaged student populations. The electrical engineer isn’t trying to teach “how to manufacture a computer chip” to a ten-year old. The civil engineer isn’t trying to turn a third-grader into a bridge designer. Rather, they are trying to paint a picture of possibility to a pupil. Their intent is not to teach them a skill, but rather, to enrich a life by improve that person’s picture of their future.

As Peter Drucker said “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” If these students see themselves in this future, that is the first step to their lives.

Vision. Paint a picture of where you might exist in your future.


The next step to success, as you might have guessed, is failure. Failure presents itself as an obstacle preventing our passage to success.

Basketball great Michael Jordan was a failure. In 1978 when Jordan was a sophomore at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina he was cut from the high school basketball team….he wasn’t good enough. Instead of giving up after failing to make the team, Jordan used the failure to spur himself to greater accomplishment, practicing hour after hour on the court. During an interview years later Jordan said, “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it, that usually got me going again.”

Failure. As you create the path towards your vision, you will encounter the door of failure. This door might be a paper screen. It appears significant, but actually only requires forward progress and you rip through it. The door of failure might be more significant, a thin wooden door like we have in our apartment. It provides brief security, a little sound protection, but in a fire, with my kids on the other side of that door, it would take me only seconds to bash through. Sometimes that door of failure takes a lot of effort, significant time, to get through, we need to use tools, hammers and drills, heavy sledges to bash our way past, but our path is on the other side, and so exert ourselves we must.

That door of failure will exist, often numerous times, dozens of times, blocking our way along our path to our vision. To succeed, we must know that it exists, and be prepared to muster the effort to turn that potential failure into merely an obstacle to be overcome.


Finally, we must realize that the path to success might entail multiple routes, that obstacles might exist that are simply is too much to overcome.

Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was a success. Sanders was the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner, the first true college junior ever drafted by the NFL, the first running back ever to have 10 consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and at age 34 was the 3rd youngest person ever inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. His winding, twisting runs towards the end zone have been featured numerous times on televised specials of sporting legends. These specials show Sanders running for dozens of yards back and forth, just to achieve a few yards of forward progress.

Because of his unique style of football persistence, Barry Sanders is also one of the greatest NFL failures of all time.

Despite being the third greatest NFL rusher in yards gained, Sanders is also the NFL’s all-time leader in yards lost, losing 1,114 total yards during his 10-year career. Sanders is an all time record-setting NFL failure. His route towards the end zone was never a straight line, but because he risked yards lost, he excelled in yards gained. He was willing to try another path, literally another path on the football field, when obstacles preventing his progress – the players of the opposing team! – presented too great a challenge along one path.

Sanders was one of the greatest successes of all time because he was willing to change direction, even temporarily head away from his ultimate goal and risk taking a loss, to achieve the triumphant touchdown.


I can sum up these three aspects of success with a simile of a mountain. We have a vision of the other side of the mountain, that is what drives us. As travel on our way, we encounter obstacles that present themselves as potential failures, landslides, sheer cliffs, mountain lions – each one could stop us – that we need to pass to continue on our way. Finally, sometimes we need to look to an alternate path, we go over the mountain, around the mountain, sometimes we might even have to go through the mountain.

Each aspect of success presents itself as a potential failure. But what does it mean to really fail?


True failure expresses itself constantly as an excuse, a reason to stop, an obstacle you have never seen, a barrier bigger than ever existed. Failure is constantly there, presenting itself as a comfortable option, an excuse, a good excuse, the best excuse you could state: “I have never done that before.” Even better than that: “no one has done that before.”

Who can argue that? Presumptuous you, thinking you might be better than all that came before? No, give up now rather than risk wasted effort, that is the lure presented by failure.

Success is a challenge, a distant picture in your mind, blurry, indistinct. Who knows if it could be done? Success could be just past the next bend, just over a little hill, a small rise, some little effort all that remains, BUT YOU DON’T KNOW. Success could be a mirage, ever distant, a goal to pursue like Don Quixotic’s, never to be achieved. Do you want a wasted life spent pursuing some ephemeral dream? Give up now! Pursue something you KNOW you can achieve and be ever mediocre, average, one of the crowd.

Mediocrity is a comfortable chair that allows you to sit without the pain of being of loser, the pain of even trying. Is that the kind of life you want to lead? It’s your choice…..

Or do you want to join the list of great failures, Albert Einstein, Michael Jordon, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill and others, who failed so miserably in their lives….and yet are known, not for their sometimes dreadful failures, but for their eventual astonishing successes.

Is that the kind of life you want to lead? Again, it’s your choice…..