Do you have what it takes to fail?
Alex Eatmon does. He took first place in this semester's installment of the Failure Competition, hosted by the College of Business Administration.
The Failure Competition was an event pioneered by Dean Paul Jarley upon his arrival to UCF two years ago.
Jarley started the contest as a way to show students that failure is not only an important part of the learning process, but a common one, too.
"The contest was designed to destigmatize failure," Jarley said. "When people take risks, sometimes they fail. Failure is part of that process. What's important about failure is that you learn from your failures and that they have a significant impact on your life going forward."
Jarley said that the event was envisioned in the contest format as a way to encourage competition, as a way to feature student skill sets and as a means to entice students to share their personal stories of failure. On his blog, Jarley invited local businesspersons and members of his staff to share their own experiences with failure.
"One thing that I want students to do is become comfortable with getting out of their comfort zone," Jarley said. "Talking about failure in a very public way is an exercise in getting students out of their comfort zone. Secondly, it's a way to promote good communications skills and storytelling. You've got to be able to tell your story in a compelling way that gets employers interested in you."
The contest is divided into three parts. In the first, an instructor from the college's senior capstone course recommends the written stories of failure from 10 to 15 students for Jarley's review. From that group, Jarley chooses three or four finalists, who are tasked with submitting a video that describes their written experience with failure. The public then votes among finalists; this year, 1,476 unique votes were cast.
Contest winner Eatmon described his victory as a humbling experience. The senior business administration major was inspired to tell his story after he heard about the contest last year.
"It was quite a unique experience," Eatmon said. "I've had a lot of people come and talk to me about it [afterward]. I've actually had several people whom I've never met email me and ask me about my story."
In his video, Eatmon spoke about how he was prevented from achieving his dreams of attending ROTC in college — and later, becoming a second lieutenant in the Air Force — due to a disqualifying medical condition. After two years of training, doctors discovered that Eatmon's vision was below Air Force standards. He was called before his commanding officer and told that his dream of becoming an Air Force officer was impossible.
"It was then that I realized that I had never actually formulated a plan B," Eatmon said. "I had become so focused on ROTC that I never fathomed that it might not come true."
Eatmon took a hiatus from school shortly thereafter. Acting on advice from a family friend, Eatmon took a job at UPS and continued to pursue his bachelor's degree at UCF.
"Several people emailed me to admit to something similar in their own lives," Jarley said. "They know what it's like when you have a set plan that doesn't work out and how good it is when you recover from that plan. I've had several people from ROTC detachments who have emailed me from across the state and they said they couldn't imagine going through what I went through."
In the end, Eatmon said that he was glad for the experience. Not only would he compete in the contest again, he would recommend the experience to others.
Fellow students shared Eatmon's views on the value of the contest, including Alan McGillivray, a senior accounting and finance major, who said that hosting a contest about failure was an interesting idea, but admitted he'd never do it himself.
"They sent out an announcement about some competition where you talk about your biggest failure," McGillivray said. "You've got to have guts to talk about that with people. Obviously, you don't want to talk about failure, but people who learn from failure generally end up on top. You've got to take it for what it is and make it into something positive."