On 23 April 2016, Johannes Haushofer, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University in the US, used twitter to release a CV of failures. He did this because he noticed that in our CVs we highlight all the achievements and air-brush out all the jobs we didn’t get, the papers that got rejected, the projects that didn’t work out. Which means that when we look at other people’s CVs, or lives, we get a distorted view. We assume that they’ve had a perfect run, that everything has just worked out without any setbacks or failures.
And this is a problem. Because we are very aware of our own failures. They were painful and so they are etched in our memories. So we have this contrast. We see others who look as though they have achieved great success without effort or failures. And we see our own failures and mistakes writ large. Clearly if we want to appear successful we need to hide these failures. Make sure people don’t find out about them. Because if they do find out then they will realise that you are a fraud – an imposter. The imposter syndrome.
Which is why it is so helpful that Johannes Haushofer has had the courage to list his CV of failures. Here is the introduction to his CV, the link to the full CV and a discussion piece about it.
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. This idea is not mine, but due to a wonderful article in Nature by Melanie I. Stefan, who is a Lecturer in the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.