Name three accomplishments you're proud of. I bet that didn't take you very long. Now name three failures that you're proud of. You had to think harder, right?

We live in an age that's supposed to celebrate failure. Fail early, fail fast, treat failure as an asset. But how often do you actually brag about your failures? It's time we all started doing that, according to Melanie Stefan, lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School. A few years ago, after trying and failing to get several academic fellowships, Stefan proposed that we should all have a CV listing our failures, because the traditional CV listing only our accomplishments tells only part of the story. There's a lot of value in seeing the rest of the story, she says, especially when we're again facing rejection. It reminds us just how hard it was to get where we are, and that we should never expect anything worthwhile to be easy. But most of us don't look back fondly at our failures, so we don'g get this benefit.

Stefan has actually followed her own advice and published a CV of her own failures for the world to see. Reading it, and looking back, I can think of a few failures of my own that I'd put on a failure ré​sumé​. 

  • Failed to get into most of the graduate programs I applied to. When I finally did get into one I dropped out after a year. I did finally go back and finish, but it was several years later.
  • I spent years trying to get good at horseback riding and never got past mediocre. Finally, I let it drop for more than a decade. I've recently picked it up again--we'll see.
  • Got fired from my first and only job as a newspaper reporter. 
  • Sent my first novel everywhere looking for a publisher. No takers. 
  • Applied for a residency at the incredibly appealing Hedgebrook writers colony on Whidbey Island. Their response said (was this really necessary?) that I didn't even make the first cut.

I've learned about myself from nearly all my failures, and like Stefan, I've also learned not to take success for granted. It's also made me realize that I'm better at persevering than I think I am, which is really nice to know.

What about you? What have you learned from your failures, and which of them would you include if you created a failure ré​sumé of your own? And what if--someday--job candidates proudly presented a list of their failures along with a list of their accomplishments? Prospective employers would get to see not only what they've done, but also what they've tried and what they learned along the way. Seems like a good thing to me.

Published on: Feb 11, 2019
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