A Princeton Professor Publishes his ‘CV of Failures’
Johannes Haushofer is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. In 2016, he took an unusual step. In a world where people often don’t get tired of highlighting their achievements, he published his CV ofFailures for everyone to see. Here is what he said:
“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.”
Prof. Haushofer got this idea from Dr.Melanie Stefan, a Senior Lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School. In 2010, Dr. Stefan’s fellowship had got rejected. At the same time, Ronaldinho was also dropped from the World Cup team. While she took solace in the fact that even a world-class player like Ronaldinho fails, on further contemplation a strange realization hit her. Some professions, such as sportspersons, have a lot of their failures in the open, because of constant scrutinization. But in lots of cases (academics in this instance), the failures are dealt with in isolation, behind closed doors. She said:
“For every hour I’ve spent working on a successful proposal, I’ve spent six hours working on ones that will be rejected. […] But that is exactly the problem. My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed.”
This realization led to her making a suggestion that one should also keep a CV of Failures.
“Compile an ‘alternative’ CV of failures. Log every unsuccessful application, refused grant proposal and rejected paper. Don’t dwell on it for hours, just keep a running, up-to-date tally. If you dare — and can afford to — make it public. It will be six times as long as your normal CV. It will probably be utterly depressing at first sight. But it will remind you of the missing truths, some of the essential parts of what it means to be a scientist — and it might inspire a colleague to shake off a rejection and start again.”
There are other CVs of Failures as pointed by Prof. Haushofer. Such as this and this. One academic named Brad Voytek has even put a ‘Failures’ section in his regular CV.
All these are examples where these academics have published their failures on their university’s/personal website and it is available for the public to see, along with their CV of Achievements.
Examples from India
Recently, graduates of IIM-Ahmedabad also prepared a CV of Failures. A few students and faculty members started an Instagram page where students and graduates could anonymously post their failures. Read a few of them and you’ll see they reflect the same apprehensions, same upsets that all of us have faced at some point.
Here is a snippet from the Times of India article which talks about this initiative. You can read the entire article here.
Inspired by Prof. Haushofer, Indian entrepreneur Ankur Warikoo also published his CV of Failures in 2016. Thereafter, even the author Amish Tripathi wrote in Times of India about the rejections he faced and how it charted his way forward.
A few years ago, someone on Quora asked if Roman Saini, Co-founder of Unacademy and one of India’s youngest IAS officers, has ever experienced failure; given that he cracked the AIIMS exam at a very young age, got through IAS, quit that, and started a unicorn startup (and he’s not even 30 yet). His response shows the less talked about sides of success.
“I have experienced more failure than most of you reading this answer. I have had my fair share of setbacks and each and every time I couldn’t succeed, I felt like this is the end of the world.
The worst feeling is that deep dark sinking feeling which just lingers. At that moment, you feel like it will stay the same way forever. That small voice inside your head start to have endless discussion with you and concludes that you are nothing but a worthless piece of s#!t. You become anxious, depressed and are completely stressed out all the time.
…I have failed on countless occasion, more than I care to remember. But that’s not the point. Each and every failure I faced, I tried to learn something from it, at all times. I always tweaked my strategy according to the learnings…”
In the answer, he goes down to list a few of his failures. You could read the entire response here.
What you can do
Reading this I realized that in the field of law as well, we rarely talk about our failures. Even when we do so, it is often in closed spaces (with friends or family) where only a select few benefit from it. We should do something to have more honest conversations about our journeys so that others find solace in their failings as well.
Thus, we would be making a repository of failure stories. For anyone reading this, we would be glad if you could share your CV of Failures with us. If not an entire CV, we encourage you to come forward and talk to us about some failures in your life, and what it taught you, how you bounced back, etc. If you are somebody who could openly share it in public, please do so. If you want to do so under anonymity, we understand that completely. Either way, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would be a major boost for people who are starting on their journeys (and even some well-seasoned travelers).
Even if you can’t share it anywhere, we suggest you make one for yourself and keep, so that you can look at it a few years down a line and smile at how things have turned out.
“Don’t read success stories, you will only get a message. Read failure stories, you will get some ideas to get success. – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam”
Update: You could read other stories from this series here:
Umang graduated from NUJS in 2019. After that, he worked at L&L Partners before taking up the role of an Editor at Lawctopus. You can find him on Twitter @UmangPod, and read some of his other writings at twodsinapodd.wordpress.com.
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