Some of the best things in life begin with a deep feeling of fear, and you can either run and hide or or you can face that fear. In my years as a highschool student, I risked the humiliation of coming up short and losing — or just looking a little stupid — in academic competitions, in music recitals, and team sports. Have I lost at times? Indeed, I have. But I’ve won, too, and along the way, I’ve developed a passion for self-improvement.As a highschool freshman, I took an intro to Java class, and about halfway through the semester, my teacher announced that the computer club was taking a trip to The University of Pennsylvania for a programming competition. I was still new to programming, but I decided to go anyway, because it sounded interesting. At the event, my team and I were only able to solve three of the 15 problems, and we almost finished in last place. That’s not a good feeling, but I still really enjoyed the challenge. I had to accept the simple fact that if you want to compete, you have to be willing to lose and learn from your experiences. Since that competition, I have been practicing for programming competitions. Last year at St. Joseph’s College, my team and I placed fifth against 50 other teams. We still haven’t won, but more contests are to come and I believe we can do better.If there is one quality I value for a fulfilling life it is a commitment to self-improvement. Part of self-improvement, of course, is honing skills and committing yourself to doing better at the challenge at hand. The motivation for me, no matter what I’m trying to do, is easy to find. It’s my path to personal growth and that feeling of self-worth that we all want. Still, in these situations, it’s not easy to balance all the forces that drive you. To improve at any task — be it academic, artistic or athletic — you must be uncompromising with yourself. You have to believe you can do better. Yet, at the same time, you need to be forgiving of yourself, because success almost always comes after struggle and, frequently, failure.Self-improvement is a challenge, and working towards a challenge takes dedication. Whether you succeed or fall short, the ultimate reward is personal growth and newfound skills. When you finally know what is important to you, you can create your own set of values by which to live. Throughout high school, I’ve been on my school’s Mathletes team, where we take part in challenging mathematics competitions. For the first three years that I participated, my scores weren’t very good, so I was placed on an unranked team. Over time, I was able to improve my scores by practicing whenever I could. This year, I’m on the school’s highest ranking team, and I was invited to the exclusive Suffolk Mathematics Tournament in this coming January.There is a common saying “be yourself,” but I think a better saying would be “be your best self.” It’s important to know what you want and to challenge yourself to get it. Without knowing what you want, you are just being blown where the wind takes you. Most people are constantly reassessing their lives, because they’re not sure what they want. The most successful are those who know exactly where they’re heading, and self-improvement is the best technique for getting there.