If you think you've failed at life, it is time to think again

Much has been said about how social media allows us to project an ideal version of ourselves, boosting our own self-esteem at the expense of others’. CVs and portfolios function in a similar manner, providing a cherry-picked collation of career highlights, whilst concealing the downfalls

JK Rowling revealed the rejection letters she received as Robert Galbraith
JK Rowling revealed the rejection letters she received as Robert Galbraith

This weekend the CV of Johannes Haushofer, a Princeton psychology professor, was widely shared on social media. Instead of being a list of impressive achievements, it was a collection of his career failures, neatly sorted into sections entitled: “Degree programs I did not get into” and “Research funding I did not get”. The last line ironically pointed out the fact that the document had received “way more attention than [his] entire body of academic work”, referring to the fact as a “meta failure”.

The response was not one of smug schadenfreude, but of immense gratitude, even admiration. Twitter users claimed that the CV was “inspirational” and “beautiful”: rather than sweeping his setbacks under the rug, Haushofer had presented them as his stepping stones to success.

The central message – we all fail sometimes – clearly resonated with, and reassured, many readers.

Haushofer’s is not the only individual in the public eye to admit their failures of late. In March, JK Rowling posted images of rejection letters sent to Robert Galbraith, her alter ego, online. She also recounted some of the standard replies and advice that she had received, including a suggestion that Galbraith should take a writing course. Rowling’s admission of failure was only considered newsworthy because such confessions are far from commonplace. Academics and writers alike wish to be seen as reliable, authoritative voices in their field. Triumphs are emphasised while hindrances are hidden.

Each time the honing process is overlooked, it creates a skewed perception of how to succeed. Much has been said about how social media allows us to project an ideal version of ourselves, boosting our own self-esteem at the expense of others’. CVs and portfolios function in a similar manner, providing a cherry-picked collation of career highlights, whilst concealing the downfalls. In both cases, the public image differs greatly from what is shared in private.

Three weeks ago, after months of hesitancy, I launched a blog called The Draft Man’s Contract. Before then, reluctant to start writing until I had perfectly formed articles ready, I had often ended up not writing at all. The solution was to relieve some of this pressure. By sharing each article’s history with the reader, I chose not to cover up those flaws, but to highlight them.

Previous versions and scrawled plans are uploaded, as are the outcomes of submissions. Readers can see the points at which typos are corrected and clunky structures are revisited. My hope is that by sharing insights into the editorial and pitching processes, the site will inform other writers who are also early in their careers.

This article is no exception. Last month it was pitched elsewhere, with no reply received. When Haushofer’s CV of Failures emerged, it provided a story to shape the content around.

Haushofer’s CV and Rowling’s rejection letters remind us that failure is a necessary part of success. They help to break down the obstacles that perfectionism and self-doubt can create, and invite us to join them. We can all use online resources and forums to pool knowledge, offer tips and give mutual support.

In doing so, our own knockbacks may become less frequent and more manageable. We may not be Princeton professors or multimillionaire novelists, but we can still benefit from reporting our rejections and writing our wrongs.

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