CV of Failures

In Confident Mind by Alex Quigley5 Comments

Sometimes a social media story goes viral for all the right reasons. It is just enough aslant from conventional opinion that the headline grabs your attention and you click the link and delve in to read. This CNBC story, of the Princeton professor who ‘posted his CV of failures for the world to see‘, managed to seize my attention.

Johannes Haushofer, the Princeton professor in question made the bold step of publishing not just the standard list of his qualifications and successful publications on his CV (academic success is largely defined by the volume and quality of the papers you have published), but by adding an idiosyncratic appendix – his ‘CV of Failures‘.

In it, Johannes makes the perceptive insight in the preface to his ‘CV of Failures’:

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective.”

He goes onto credit Melanie I. Stefan in this article from ‘Nature.com‘ for the genesis of the CV idea. What struck me is how simple but helpful this idea is for so many of us. How many of us hide our many career failures under the carpet for fear of losing face? As we all hide our failures, we all sell each other the same untruth that our success is derived from a endless succession of happy wins. We could be a lot easier on ourselves and others if we admitted the truth.

The truth, those memories of failed interviews, botched job application letters, jaded losses and unforeseen accidents, goes unshared. We seldom talk about our losses and failures and we therefore lose the chance to better learn from them. We tell a thousand stories of our successes, which hides the reality that success is most often preceded from our learning from failure, understanding it and dealing with it psychologically.

I imagine it is useful for some training teachers to hear the truth from me that I stumbled through three interview failures before I was successful in finding my first teaching job (not only that, it was no doubt the best job of the lot). I could add a great deal to my ‘CV of failures’. My first attempt at promotion in a school was a failure. My first external interview to be a middle leader was a failure. My first attempt external interview for senior leadership was a failure. My ‘CV of failure’ is quite extensive I can tell you!

It sounds trite to say it, but I learnt much more about myself from those failures than from my successes. No doubt some of my successes are down to the world being stochastic too, as Haushofer puts it – where events are random and influenced by random variables – or simply being in the right place at the right time.

Perhaps we are all not quite so brave as Haushofer and are not ready to publish our many failures quite so starkly, but if we talked about our experiences of such failures we would likely all be much better off for it. When we see those media stories of brilliantly successful people it is easy to fall prey to ‘imposter syndrome’ – the notion that no matter how qualified we are, we don’t feel worthy in our positions and we live in fear of being exposed as a fraud.

I know that I have felt that ‘imposter syndrome’ most keenly in situations like a job interview, like those aforementioned failures, when everyone is busy sharing their successes (whilst they silently bury their many failures). Maybe the next time you go feel afeared at an interview, or when you are speaking in front of your peers in a meeting and feel uncertain of your voice, you can remember that everyone, just like Johannes Haushofer, likely has their own CV of failures.

Care to share yours?

 

(Image via Pixabay)

Comments

  1. Great post, Alex! I’ve shared a few times that although I had seven jobs across my thirty year career I actually had 21 interviews – so failed twice as often as I was successful! It took me NINE attempts to get a Head of English post, and each time I went for interview my husband put a good bottle of champagne we were saving from our wedding in the fridge. When I came home in tears because I hadn’t got the job he had to smuggle it out of the fridge, upstairs and back under the spare room bed without me seeing – I only learnt this when we finally opened it and he told me! And these were the interviews – I didn’t keep count of now many jobs I applied for where I didn’t get as far as interview.

    Having this experience of failure certainly made me a better head in due course – I could empathise with candidates who were disappointed at interview and always made sure I was as sensitive and positive as I could be.

    1. Author

      Good to share interview failures – I have a lot to draw on! Beyond the initial embarrassment and pain, they have helped me learn and drive me on. It can all sound a bit trite, but it is vital to share it.

  2. And failure isn’t just the job you didn’t get – it can also be the empty road that needs a U-turn. My experience of a year in a graduate training scheme for a major company showed me that corporate life would never be for me. I learnt a lot from that failed choice, but I’m glad I learnt it fast and left!

    It strikes me that the real failures are the things you didn’t dare to try. Those ones are even harder to admit to!

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