SinceAssistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Johannes Haushofer released a “CV of Failures”on his Twitter in late April, the document has sparked a discussion on success on University campus.
On April 23, Haushofer tweeted a link to a document in which he listed his failures, including six degree programs he did not get into, three academic positions and fellowships he did not get, nine awards and scholarships he did not receive, six paper rejections from academic journals and eight opportunities for research funding he did not attain.
Haushofer said that he aims to continue to shed light on the invisibility of failures.
“I’m hoping that [my CV of Failures] will be a source of perspective at times when things aren’t going well, especially for students and my fellow young researchers,” he said.
According to Haushofer, he first wrote a CV of failures in 2011, shortly after a friend and colleague, Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, proposed the idea in an article in the academic journal Nature.
“A friend had had a professional setback and I wanted to show support, and this seemed like a good way of doing it. Because it seemed to be helpful, I have since done this with a few other friends. The response was usually positive, and so I thought it could be useful to make it public,” he said.
Stefan’s article discussed the many failures scientists and researchers encounter throughout their careers and proposed the idea of creating an atypical Curriculum Vitae, one that would track failures instead of an ordinary one logging accomplishments. In her article, Stefan urged members of the academic world to create their own “CV of failures” where they would “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,” Stefan said. “If you dare — and can afford to — make it public.”
After receiving positive responses from friends and colleagues, Haushofer decided to make his CV of failures available to the public. He added that he tried to include everything that would have gone on his regular CV if it had succeeded.
“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible while the successes are visible,” Haushofer wrote in the introduction to his CV. He added that this invisibility may have given others the impression that most things in his life have worked out for him.
Haushofer explained that the CV of failures is an attempt to provide some perspective to those who might feel that their failures are solely their own fault by showing them that there are additional, uncontrollable factors that contribute to events not going their way. He added that it may serve as a source of perspective for when times are not going well and that he hopes it will begin a discussion about some of the mental health issues facing college campuses.
“The world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots and selection committees and referees have bad days,” Haushofer explained in the introduction to his CV.
Sophia Chen ’19 expressed her excitement and surprise upon reading about all the degree programs Haushofer did not get into, as it was something she had never seen before.
“I had this preconceived notion that all Princeton professors are highly accomplished and successful in their fields, but Professor Haushofer showed that this is evidently not true, as he was not admitted to numerous graduate and Ph.D. programs,” Chen said.
Chen admits that it is common for many University students to feel pressure academically, socially and physically, causing them to be “blinded by their failures,” focusing on the moments where they have fallen short instead of appreciating the moments where they have achieved success.
Chen admitted that trying to cover up failures, while only focusing on successes, can be common on college campuses too. She explained that some Princeton students may only be aware of others’ successes, while they themselves are well aware of their own blend of successes and failures. Even so, when students do achieve success, they still may perceive it as multiple failures instead of one big success, she added.
According to Stefan, this mentality has a name in the world of psychology: impostor syndrome.
Stefan noted that the syndrome is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. This refers to high-achieving individuals who have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a continual fear of being exposed as a "fraud," she added.
One of Stefan’s motivations for proposing her idea was to address impostor syndrome and the feelings of isolation and pressure that accompany it.
“I was thinking a lot about what happens when you fail in a world that acts as if failure didn’t exist,” she said. “On top of having failed, you also feel like you are the only one who has ever failed.”
Stefan proposed the idea of a CV of failures in the hopes that it would make the world of academia more open about failures and encourage youth to put their own setbacks into perspective. Stefan believes that a culture where all people are more transparent in speaking about their failures and setbacks would be a much healthier, welcoming environment for young and ambitious students and researchers than our current one.
Stefan came to this idea after being rejected from a fellowship application and learning on the same day that Ronaldinho, or Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, a professional Brazilian soccer player and winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2004 and 2005, had not been selected for the Brazilian World Cup team in 2010.
Stefan admitted that she felt better about her own failure after learning that such a soccer sensation had failed in his own way too. However, it caused her to wonder why every failure in academia was hidden, while in the sports world, injuries, losses and other failures are typically made public. Stefan also stated in her article that the type of fellowship she applied for has a success rate of only about 15 percent, meaning that only one in seven applications will result in a success.
“As scientists, we construct a narrative of success that renders our setbacks invisible both to ourselves and to others,” she wrote in her article. “Often, other scientists’ careers seem to be a constant, streamlined series of triumphs. Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected.”
Stefan explained that measures aimed at changing the culture of academic campuses to one that is more accepting of failures would be helpful, and she has been told that people who have created their CV of failures have found perspective in the process of creating one. She added that it should not be an exercise for a person to dwell on his or her failures, but instead should be an uplifting, inspiring and helpful personal exercise.
According to TJ Smith ’18, although the concept of CV of failures might help some students with impostor syndrome, these CVs only address official and academic failures, not the insecurities that come from internal or subjective failures.
“Many of these people may have a much shorter list of official failures, but are haunted much more by things like feeling that they don’t understand class material well enough, or feeling that they were only accepted to programs because they happen to be good at making a resume look good, not because they really deserve it,” Smith said.
A greater emphasis on healthy friendships and community gives students a place they can turn when dealing with mental health problems, Smith said.
“For issues like the impostor syndrome especially, the simple support of friends can go a long way toward resolving the problem, since they can offer honest affirmation that unknown counselors can not,” he said.
Sarah Sakha ’18, a co-chair of the Mental Health Initiative Board, deferred comment to Matt B?a?ejewski ’17, a member of Mental Health Initiative Board
Sakha is an associate opinion editor for the Daily Princetonian.
“What surprises me is the degree of transparency clearly apparent in [Haushofer’s] CV and the extent to which it has sparked further conversation,” B?a?ejewski said.
The Mental Health Initiative Board works towards creating dialogue about mental health issues on campus, reducing the stigma associated with mental health disorders, creating a more inclusive and supportive campus environment and improving University policy regarding mental health. He is also a member of the Princeton Perspective Project, which addresses impostor syndrome and the need to emulate effortless perfection on campus.
“I think this CV is a great step towards cultivating an inclusive campus environment in which open dialogue on mental health issues is no longer stigmatized, but actively accepted and encouraged,” B?a?ejewski said.