We all have a list of failures buried somewhere in the back of our heads. From my own experience, I could probably tell you about all the jobs I didn’t get in my long search, all the awards and scholarships I never earned back in college, and all the articles I failed to write well (and not just because I’m my own worst critic).
But what would happen if you decided to actually write them all down? What would that even look like?
This is exactly what Johannes Haushofer, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, did—and for the general public to see, too.
Professor Haushofer recently published a CV showcasing not his accomplishments, but all of his failures throughout his career—all the degree programs he didn’t get into, all the fellowships, awards, and funding he didn’t receive, and all the rejections he got from academic journals. (By the way, here’s what a CV is if you're unsure.)
Why would he do this? In The Washington Post, Haushofer talks about how each resume “hides secrets.”
“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.”
What Haushofer hopes to express through his own list of failures is that every success comes with hundreds (and maybe thousands of letdowns, disasters, and mistakes)—all of which are just as important as the success itself. Getting one job could come after rejections from 50 other interviews. Being promoted might happen after years of grueling work, mistakes, and late nights spent at the office. No success story happens overnight, and even the most admirable individuals went through tremendous struggles to end up where they are now.
Haushofer points out that if his list seems short, it’s not because he hasn’t screwed up as much as others—but because he may very well not even remember a lot of his own setbacks. And if you think about it, how many times do we suppress our own mishaps and only recall only the good after just a few months?
If a successful professor at an Ivy League institution has a whole page worth of missed opportunities, chances are a lot of us can rest easy knowing that when we face rejection, we are not alone in the world. It’s not that we ourselves are failures, but that it takes trials and tribulations to truly reach success.
That’s why it might be worth making a list for yourself—to see how far you’ve come, how hard you’ve worked, and how much you’ve improved since you first started your career. In addition to celebrating your successes, celebrate the failures that lead you there, and maybe, just maybe, that’s all the motivation you need to know that you can move forward.