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Visible Success – vs – Invisible Failure

Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible.”

— Johannes Haushofer

My previous article about my recent struggles seemed to really strike a chord with people.

I was actually inspired by Johannes Haushofer. He is the Assistant Professor of Psychology at Princeton University and he recently shared his “CV of Failures.”

You see, he’d noticed that projecting only success and never recognizing failure has damaging effects.

And he decided to do something about it.

“People are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is unpredictable, 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 said.

Johannes, in turn, was inspired by an article by Melanie Stefan in Nature.

Keeping a visible record of your rejected applications can help others to deal with setbacks,” she wrote. “A couple of months ago, I received a letter informing me that my fellowship application had failed.

On the same day, Brazil’s World Cup squad announced that football phenomenon Ronaldinho had not been selected.

“Cool,” I thought. “I am like Ronaldinho.”

But that thought offered only little consolation. No scientist enjoys such failures, but too often we hide them.

In a way, a fellowship rejection is to be expected. Most of these fellowships have success rates of about 15%, meaning that an applicant might be successful in only one out of every seven tries.

For every hour I’ve spent working on a successful proposal, I’ve spent six hours working on ones that will be rejected. I don’t mind the extra work — after all, if I abhorred tedious tasks with low chances of success, I would not be in research.

The problem is 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.

So here is my suggestion. 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.

As I wrote in my previous post, success as a coach or as an entrepreneur is a ride.

There are accomplishments and there are failures.

There are successes and there are struggles.

There are ups and downs.

There are YESes and NOs.

A helluva lot of failures, struggles, downs and NOs – if you REALLY want to be successful.”

Now you know what to do.

TRACK THEM.

Track your failures, your struggles and your downs. And count your NOs.

See you on the ride. I am right there alongside you!

Love. Rich

P.S. My favorite line on Johannes Haushofer’s document reads:

“This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”

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