My most prized possession is a binder of awards, certificates, and acceptance letters. I started compiling it in middle school, but the first page is a “Peacemaker for Citizenship” certificate I received in first grade.
Failure isn’t something I had ever thought about documenting. This is how most people are; you save the wins, to celebrate and savor, but what good are the failures?
In the current age of social media, successes are publicized across all platforms. LinkedIn feeds sometimes feel like they’re an endless sea of “I’m happy to announce” posts, because it’s normal to want to celebrate our wins. But in the process, we’re failing to normalize failure.
Failure is a common fear, and while we’re focused on not dwelling on rejection and instead bouncing back, we’re creating an echo chamber where we only ever talk (and think) about the wins. Failing is natural, necessary, and sometimes even good.
Coming to terms with rejection and failure has both psychological and analytical benefits. Admitting failure can be a relief. It’s often a much needed reminder that you don’t need to be perfect all the time. With success comes pressure and stress, and sometimes not getting that job offer can really ground you and remind you to take it easy.
When you normalize failure, you build resilience. You may have put yourself out there and failed to get the results you wanted, but that effort is still a testament to your determination and courage.
Failure usually provides you with areas of improvement and points out your weaknesses, which is knowledge you can use to your advantage in your career development. Sometimes you don’t know why you didn’t land a position, but sometimes you can diagnose a lack of interview preparation, for example, or reusing an old, outdated resume. Recognizing failure is essential for future improvement. It can even act as motivation to redouble your efforts.
Embracing failure is an opportunity, and one that many people are missing out on. Truly learning from failure and letting it help you grow is a hard skill to master, but incorporating a tangible version of it into your career journey is easy.
An idea started by Melanie Stefan, an Edinburgh Medical School lecturer, and covered by outlets such as the New York Times, the “failure resume” has been popular among academics and industry professionals in the recent years. Making a failure resume is easy: just list all of your rejections, failures, and unsuccessful ventures.
The goal is to use this resume as a tool in your career journey, both critically, with notes on how to improve, and personally, as a show of growth and resilience.
A quick Google search will produce many examples, if you need inspiration or a guide. Some are funny too, like this Princeton professor’s CV of Failures, who has a tongue-in-cheek section titled “Meta-Failures” where he notes that this CV has gained more attention than his “entire body of academic work.”
The only question left is: which is better, a failure resume or a failure CV?