Activity Idea: Learning From A Failure Resume

May 03, 2016
Career, Teaching Strategies, Current Events, Article, Activities

Update: NGPF now has an activity based on this concept: CREATE a C.V. of Failure!


This CV of Failures has gone viral. Here is a screenshot of the first page:

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 3.39.32 PM

Here is a quote from the Nature article that inspired Prof. Haushofer to print his CV of failures:

So here is my suggestion. Compile an ‘alternative’ CV of failures. 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. If you dare — and can afford to — make it public. It will be six times as long as your normal CV. It will probably be utterly depressing at first sight. But it will remind you of the missing truths, some of the essential parts of what it means to be a scientist — and it might inspire a colleague to shake off a rejection and start again.

The key to this exercise is the recognition that success isn’t a straight line. Even the most successful among us (A Princeton professorship is a pretty good gig) experience rejection along the way. So, how to use this in the classroom?

  • Have students brainstorm things that they have failed at. Examples might include a class or a test that they didn’t perform well on, a sporting event or activity where they or their team lost, activity where they didn’t get a role (sports team, theater), colleges they didn’t get into (timely), jobs they didn’t get, failing their driver’s test, overdrawing your checking account, getting in a car accident, getting suspended from school, losing a class election. You get the idea.
  • Student can then categorize these failings (e.g., academic, career, financial, etc.)
  • Now for the most important part: The Reflection Questions!
    • What did you learn from this failure?
    • What did you do to overcome the feeling of failure?

This takes me back to my college essay written 31 years ago. This was the days before consultants or maybe there were consultants but my family just couldn’t afford one. My essay topic: Failure. I was a high school sophomore pitcher and gotten invited to join the varsity for an away game in Ramsey, NJ. We were locked in a tie game with runners on base, when I got called in to pitch in relief in the late innings. Here was my big chance! You can probably guess what happened next…first batter three run home run…next batter hit by pitch…next batter I am watching from the bench. To this day, I remember how devastated I was on the bus ride home. Nothing a teammate or coach could say could make me feel better. Yet, what came out of this experience was an appreciation for how much harder (physically and mentally) I would need to work in order to succeed in baseball and that I better keep focusing on my academics:) Looking back, I am not sure I would have had the motivation to compete at the collegiate level without this setback.

Here are some other resources about the importance of failure:

I don’t know how many of us are prepared to reckon so openly (and humorously) with mistakes or missed opportunities, let alone share them with the world. What I do know is that many of us carry overly simplified ideas about the logic of success and how it unfolds, and that those false narratives often stand in the way of actually succeeding.



About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.