What Would Your CV or Resume of “Failures” Look Like?

So a Princeton Professor published a CV of “failures”, listing  positions he didn’t get, and funding he was not awarded, saying that

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective.”

Teacher, Writer, and Researcher Clint Smith, whose work I have featured on more than one occasion at N.A.H. had an important point for consideration to share in response:


Smith’s commentary was spot on. It is important to recognize that creating something like a “failure” cv impacts people differently.

It is an inescapable reality that our social identities play a role in shaping our experiences and outcomes, which ultimately impact our views of the world, and that people with marginalized identities face challenges that could cause something like sharing a CV or resume of failures in an attempt to make their experiences accessible to those who might wish to follow their paths to backfire and be used against them in some way.

Yet, even with the risks, when we are able, I believe it is very important to share the struggles as well as the successes. Sometimes we have a tendency to put people we admire on a pedestal.

However, doing so dehumanizes them by  ignoring their imperfections, invalidating the fears they may have had, and the times where they may have felt unsure about which actions to take.

Idolizing people in such a way can also prevent us from realizing the talent, skills, and gifts that we possess. It can keep us from feeling like we can make it too in our own ways.

The same can happen to others who might put us on a pedestal.

A glimpse into my own “Failures” CV

Even though building more equitable and inclusive communities is a part of my personal mission, and equity and inclusion work is a part of my vocation, even though I work with students, faculty, and staff in institutions of higher education on college campuses, as well as with community groups, and secondary schools creating, planning, and implementing experiential activities and projects that advance diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice, the journey has had its ups and downs.

As an exercise in bravery, vulnerability, and accessibility to any who might wish to travel my path or go your own way, here are some examples of what my “failure cv” would look like through a brief look in the past.

Positions I didn’t get:

2016: Experiential Learning Coordinator at Oakland University
2015: Director of the Intercultural Center at University of Michigan-Flint
2015: Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Housing at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
2015: Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Housing at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
2015: Field Educator at The University of Michigan School of Social Work
2014: BSW Field Coordinator at University of Michigan-Flint
2014: Director of the Intercultural Center at University of Michigan-Flint
2014: Public Health Program Coordinator at Oakland University
2012: Diversity Trainer for the Center for Intercultural Programs at DePaul University in Chicago

Each of these attempts have their own stories that are connected to experiences that have ultimately served as learning and growth opportunities for me personally and professionally.

I intentionally put the word failures in quotation marks because, even though it might initially feel that way, I can affirm from personal experience that sometimes, it’s good things don’t work out the way we may have intended them to at the time, and that there’s an “other” side of the struggle.

Shortly, in a further attempt at encouragement through making my own experiences accessible, I will share exciting news with you that in my life serves as a testament to that belief.

Have you heard of the “failures” CV or resume? What would yours look like?

Ubuntu,

From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

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