Stanescu-Bellu: Try, Try Again

Getting up after failing is difficult, but persevering is worth it.

by Sofia Stanescu-Bellu | 4/25/17 12:35am

On April 9, Women’s Grandmaster Sabina-Francesca Foișor became the U.S. Women’s Chess Champion. Not only is she the the first Romanian to clinch the title — a point of personal pride — she did so on her ninth attempt playing in the tournament, even after losing twice in the first four games.

Foișor is the definition of perseverance. All the odds were against her: her mother had passed away a few months prior in January, she had failed over and over again to land the title in the tournament and she had cutthroat competitors such as Grandmaster Irina Krush, a seven time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion, as well as last year’s champion Nazí Paikidze. Most people would have decided not to participate, perceiving these obstacles as signs of the impossiblity to win. I know I probably would have given up — in fact, I have abandoned similar situations because they just seemed too hopeless.

I stopped playing competitive chess three quarters of the way through my senior year of high school, in part because I wanted to focus on schoolwork, but also because I had reached a plateau. I hated leaving tournaments knowing that I played well but wasn’t quite good enough or that I had a bad day and ruined my chances at the last minute. For me, it was easy to make a list of the failures I’d had in my competitive chess career and use them to justify why I would stop playing in tournaments for the time being.

I spent this past winter applying to internships. I felt good about my résumé and experience and applied to some big software companies, expecting to hear back from them with positive results. When the rejections started rolling in, I saw them as a sign that I wasn’t good enough and that I should stop trying, so I took a break from applications and only resumed a few weeks ago when I was able to muster the courage to risk getting rejected again. 

We have all been in similar situations where you’ve worked hard but the results just aren’t what you want them to be. When you keep trying for something, be it a certain GPA, internship, job or title, and keep falling short. When you look around at your peers and see what they’re achieving and look back at yourself and think, “Why can’t I do that? Why am I not that successful? Why am I getting 20 rejections when they’re getting 20 acceptances?” When you see the mountain of reasons as to why you can’t or shouldn’t do something and decide that it would be too difficult to scale it, so you walk away, not realizing what awaits you on the other side if you do. At Dartmouth, which may be seen as less competitive as its peer institutions in the Ivy League, we are surrounded by brilliant people who are constantly achieving amazing things. Failing hurts, especially since many of us haven’t truly failed before. We came to this school as valedictorians, salutatorians, athletic champions, award-winning writers, artists and musicians. When we face our rejections, it can hurt — a lot. It’s this fear of getting hurt again that stops us from moving forward.

Yet Foișor didn’t stop. She took everything working against her and used it as ammunition as to why she could succeed, and on her ninth try, she finally took home the gold. As actor Will Smith said, “The best things in life are on the other side of terror, on the other side of your maximum fear.” We are afraid of rejection, but we shouldn’t be. We have to know what we want and commit to it 100 percent. No matter what gets in our way and how many times we fall, we must keep trying, because only then will we even have the possibility of succeeding.

After applying to over a dozen more internships, I’m starting to receive requests to move forward in the interview process. They’re not definite acceptances by any means, but there is potential — an opportunity for more. Had I been pushed away by that mountain of reasons as to why I shouldn’t apply, I never would have gotten this chance to see what’s on the other side. Had Foișor played poorly or not shown up at all, she would have missed out on her chance to make history. By choosing to stand up over and over again, we can all make history in our own way — even after falling down for the ninth time.