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Your Failure Resume

Piggybacking on Sunday’s post about presenting the whole picture and not just the highlights reel, Lifehacker had an interesting idea a few weeks ago about creating a failure resume.  So think the opposite of your actual resume.  It’s a document that catalogues all the times you’ve failed.

But there’s a point!

By doing this exercise, you stop telling yourself a messed up version of life where you pretend everything came to you easily.  Instead, you remember how far you’ve come and the times where you’ve had to navigate a difficult path to emerge out the other side.

I was trying to think about how I would arrange my failure resume, similar to the way people highlight different aspects of their experience depending on their job.  My chemical pregnancies and preterm labour should probably go toward the bottom of the document at this point, similar to the way I tuck my degrees towards the bottom of my resume.

I guess I would start with not getting into my first choice college.  That sucked.  I remember crying so hard that I couldn’t breathe, and my friend, Matt, taking me out to see My Own Private Idaho for the sixth time as a condolence prize.  I was miserable about this fact until October of my freshman year of college when I decided that it was okay that I wasn’t where I wanted to be, and I was going to be happy where I was.  I had a fantastic four years, and zero regrets in retrospect, though… at the time… it sucked.

And I would currently end with all the agent rejections followed by the publisher rejections that I’ve collected over the years.  Connecting with my current agent took a lot of time and a lot of “no, thank you,” emails from other agencies.  And then landing all of my publishing contracts also came with a heaping dose of “not for me.”  It wouldn’t be that hard to crawl back through my email folders and start listing all the names and places as a reminder.

I really love this line from the article: “The notion that any person can achieve meaningful success without experiencing setbacks and disappointments seems hopelessly naïve.”  Have I learned from all of my mistakes?  No.  There have been plenty of setbacks that haven’t taught me anything about myself or how to navigate life.  But there are plenty that should be listed, if only to remind myself that sometimes shit happens, and sometimes we even get through it.

What do you think of making a failure resume?


1 a { 05.24.16 at 8:09 am }

I think there are two kinds of people who need this: people who think their life is just a series of failures (because it will help them see that failures have led to successes) and people who think they do everything on their own without any help or support.

2 Cristy { 05.24.16 at 8:56 am }

I could easily generate this list. The question is, do you than sculpt it into connection the lessons learned or the paths opened up? Or is it simply a list of all failed dreams and endeavors.

Grey and I went through an exercise following his lay off (we now know we can call it that given recent information). We knew for his upcoming interviews that they would want to know why he was let go. So he addressed it, short and sweet. Focusing on an mutual break but also what he was taking from the experience. It was a painful exercise, but important one. I think this idea of a failure resume is similar.

3 Charlotte { 05.24.16 at 9:31 am }

I sort of see the point of this….but also sort of not. I mean, I know I haven’t had a gravy train ride to where I am now in life. I can’t really see how going back and writing down all the shit would be beneficial to me. I am the person who can’t really look back fondly on the failures seeing where they brought me. I would end up reliving all the pain and being stuck in that for a while. And I have no time for wallowing in self-pity or living in those dark spaces again.
Now, I can go back and talk about my experiences for the benefit of my kids, such as talking about the crap that was middle school and how I got through it and what it taught me/helped me to be. But I can maintain a certain distance by retelling things in that way. A failure resume for me would be a recipe for disaster.

4 Karen Sanders { 05.24.16 at 9:36 am }

I would have never thought to PURPOSEFULLY list those things about me. I try to hide from my screw ups as much as possible. Perhaps, I should rethink this to see if there is learning left in them.

5 Jen { 05.24.16 at 9:57 am }

This is so interesting. Looking back, every failure which broke my heart at the time (relationship, exams grades, university application, plenty of job interviews) was actually a road block on a path which with hindsight I wouldn’t have taken.

The best feedback I ever got was a mentor who reviewed my failed application forms and said, “You write very well. You are just applying for the wrong jobs.” I went on to promotion within a year because I stopped seeing myself as a failure and started only applying for jobs for which I could genuinely show my passion.

And is it possible to ‘fail’ at things which are totally outside your control? I used to think my miscarriages were me failing my babies. Now I think they were simply terrible things which happened that no-one could ever have prevented. I’m still sad sometimes, but without blame.

6 Laurel Regan { 05.24.16 at 10:08 am }

Mel, your failures are better than my successes. 🙂 I’m not sure I could do a failure resume without getting incredibly depressed.

7 nonsequiturchica { 05.24.16 at 1:18 pm }

I have the same question as Jen- is it possible to fail at things that you can’t control? Outside of most circumstances, you can’t control whether you are going to have a miscarriage so I don’t think that I would put that on my fail resume. I don’t know how helpful it would be to list out failures that you couldn’t control….but especially in terms of a job I could see how it could help.

8 m. { 05.24.16 at 1:31 pm }

I’m trying to think through how this exercise would make me feel, esp since I’m the kind of person who can stay up all night replaying specific and totally random instances from my life back in my head and thinking through what I could have/should have done differently. We’re talking, completely inconsequential conversations with acquaintances. But also, like Jen, I think I’ve spent a lot of mental energy, like years, to get myself to that “without blame” segment of grief, and I fear this resume would take me back to a place I spent a long time moving away from.

But very, VERY interesting idea, career-wise. I just don’t think I could keep myself compartmentalized.

9 Justine { 05.24.16 at 4:56 pm }

For me, the project is less useful to yourself than it is to other people, for whom we should dispel the myth of effortless perfection. There’s so much smoke and mirrors now that people think everyone else lives charmed lives; it’s nice to see sometimes that there’s blood, sweat and tears behind even the most perfect-looking outcomes.

10 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.24.16 at 5:32 pm }

I think making and seeing my failure resume would make me feel resilient and amazing. Make me want to channel Gloria Gaynor.

11 Queenie { 05.24.16 at 9:43 pm }

It raises the issue of perspective, as well. I think it’s so interesting that you perceive your agent and publisher rejections as failures. I see it those as mere steps on one continuous arc between desire and success: you wanted an agent for example, and you got one. . .success. Along the way you had some trials (i.e., agent rejections), but those are just part of your arc of agent-seeking, which ended successfully. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to go from step a to step z without some bumps in the road. I just don’t consider those bumps in the road standalone failures.

12 Jess { 05.24.16 at 10:22 pm }

I really wonder what the whole idea of only presenting your best, a fake “everything is awesome” version of yourself on social media, is doing to psychology and self-worth… But that said, I like this failure resume idea, if only to reflect on the things that were setbacks that may have actually led you to things that were better. For me, I quit the teaching program in college because I was scared, which was a failure, but then later ended up teaching after all and it is what I’m meant to do. I married the wrong person but that taught me what I do deserve and how not to settle for a fake timeline. I guess all the failed cycles and my losses count as failures in a way, but I choose not to count them in there, because I worked really hard for those lost opportunities, and nothing I did contributed to that failure (to echo some comments above). I got fired in my 20s though, and that was a failure, although it taught me that I should have said no rather than piling up things on my workload and also that not everyone likes you. I like this failure resume thing as long as its twisted a bit to help you reflect on how those setbacks helped bring you towards a better something. (Also, I think teaching kids about failure and how it’s okay is so very important in this culture we have now — that everyone messes up and it’s how you bounce back and the fact that you took a risk that’s the part to hang on to.)

13 noemi { 05.25.16 at 1:11 am }

I wrote a post about this, it will be up tomorrow morning. For me the exercise was about what I learned from my “failures,” both the ones I could “control” and ones I couldn’t. It was an interesting exercise, and while I don’t believe my failures necessarily brought me to where I am today, I do think what I learned from them changed who I am, for the better.

14 Modern Gypsy { 05.25.16 at 4:41 am }

Setbacks and failure are the stepping stones to success – most of the time. More important is to learn the lessons, extract the wisdom and then let the baggage go.

15 Mali { 05.25.16 at 11:44 pm }

I rather like this idea. As Lori said, I think it might make me feel resilient. Though I hate revisiting old shames and feeling all those emotions again.

16 md { 05.26.16 at 1:27 am }

interesting post, as are all the comments! i think i would have to do it, to see how i feel about it. it is definitely good to see a path of progression from a to b. while i may not have learnt anything useful from some failures, all taught me that you can succeed despite setbacks. that shit happens, and you will get through it. and some failures made me take a totally different path, which, in the end, was where i was meant to be.

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