We all tend to highlight our good qualities and high-points in our CV’s and tend to dwell more over our past successes than failures. We take artistic liberty with how things have played out in our life and try to present a positive picture of ourselves. And this is hugely adaptive.
There is a whole body of positive psychology research that focuses on reinterpreting failures/ traumas etc and to look for proverbial silver lining and modify our narratives accordingly. We did not lose, we fought valiantly for a great cause and so forth.
However, there is another stream of research that highlights the fact that nothing ventured and nothing gained; only by falling seven times and getting up eight times do you learn to walk. As per this philosophy, failures are an integral part of life- be it in innovation / creativity / entrepreneurship where fail fast methods are encouraged; or be it in life itself where the regrets of not having attempted to do something is perhaps the biggest regret at the death bed.
So why do we try to push our failures under the carpet? While its important not to dwell on your failures too much and keep them in perspective with what you have also achieved, having a realistic assessment of your life and being courageous enough to live with that assessment authentically may be good for your resilience and optimism . Knowing that you have managed to overcome and learned from failures and moved on, may give you renewed hope and optimism for your resilient abilities.
Also for the widely successful people, perhaps it makes more sense if they could share more openly the various failures that had strewn their path; and post which they emerged stronger and more wiser and more determined. Otherwise as Prof Johannes Haushofer of Princeton points out in his CV of failure, other people may get a lopsided idea of what entails success or a persona of success.
With that in mind, I want to share my brief list of failures:
- Gave two attempts at UPSC exam in order to become an ambassador working for peace; however fate had other plans for me so never got to the interview stage also.
- Realized late that my real passion lay in psychology so gave GRE and Advanced GRE Psychology and got very good marks but never applied to any University and the plans of being an academic were indefinitely shelved.
- Left my job to first start a web 2.0 based service (that failed) and then later launched a Flourish Mentoring (1.0) project whereby approached local schools for positive psychology interventions. The venture failed and I had to go back to my day job.
- Fresh out of college had great aspirations of getting my books/ poems published. Got many rejections for my poetry collection. Finally settled on self -publishing my novella using print on demand Lulu publishers. The poetry collections still remains unpublished…except freely on the web:-)
- Aspire to write a non-fiction psychology book for past some years and have not moved beyond outline (done when inspired on a crazy day) ……a character failure of not being disciplined/ not overcoming the writers block/ fearing rejection by publishers again / whatever.
- As a psychology blogger I got good recognition and also acceptance into many science blogging networks, but there are also many others like HBR and PLOS blogs where I applied to get entry and got rejected.
- In some euphoric state of mind, I applied to be a TED fellow quite some years back and got rejected.
- In relationships (and your CV of failures need not be restricted to professional domain) one of the person I cherish most as a true friend has broken all communications and social connections and I don’t even know why?
- My latest venture Flourish Mentoring (2.0) where I would have expected to had a flourishing business of coaching clients and workshops lined up is fledgling to say the least…….and I am perennially at cross roads of when I will be able to align my day work with my passion for psychology.
- There are more mundane failures like applying for job in various companies like Google and getting rejected. Or being passed over for promotion in the companies in which I worked (despite on my part being totally convinced that I deserved it) etc etc….you get the idea.
- My dream of Coach4India remains on paper and is nowhere near being actualized. But hope lives on……
So overall what conclusions do I draw…..its better to be adventurous and live a life of no regrets- do attempt things out of your comfort zone- sometimes you will fail and that’s ok…..if you can learn form that failure and use it as a springboard for future success, nothing like it!