The lifelong value of the ‘failure CV’

What can we learn from failure?

According to leading Southampton psychiatrist Dr Stroma Macfarlane, of Priory Wellbeing Centre in Southampton, a lot!

"Once we accept failure as completely normal, we are all much better equipped to succeed.

"A common response to failure is to conflate 'experiencing' a failure with 'being' a failure. This is disastrous and can just reinforce negative beliefs we hold about ourselves.

"But as Samuel Beckett wisely said: 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.' Failure can lead to self-inquiry which can lead to solutions."

Her comments come after a professor at Princeton University published a CV listing his career failures on Twitter, in an attempt to 'balance the record' and encourage others to keep trying in the face of disappointment.

The CV by Johannes Haushofer, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at the university in New Jersey, contains sections entitled 'Degree programs I did not get into', and 'Research funding I did not get' and includes awards and scholarships he did not get.

The CV of failures was embraced on Twitter as 'inspiring', 'brilliant' and 'beautiful'.

Many high-profile people have experienced high-profile failures only then to go on and achieve. Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in May 2004, after months of public scrutiny and speculation about his future. On 15 November 2014, the day after a UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying defeat at home against the Faroe Islands, he was sacked as manager of Greece. Less than 18 months on, and he led Leicester to an historic victory, earning him the nickname King Claudio.

Failure is vital

Dr Macfarlane said: "It offers perspective and should be expected on the way to achieving your goals. It's imperative for self-development and for providing the 'feedback' we need to adapt, grow, and accomplish.

"Of course, success can be measured in many ways, and to succeed in every endeavour is impossible. Many of us try to achieve this by avoiding the risk of failure. But this can be paralysing, stopping us from innovating, experimenting and, ironically, ultimately, succeeding.

"Being less judgmental of ourselves as 'failures', and placing importance on the value of persistence and resilience in the face of repeated failure, helps us to know when to keep going on a certain path and when to try something new - by measuring the positives rather than the negatives. So reframe your failures as opportunities to learn and to eliminate wrong turns on the path towards success."

She added: "As a society, we should all recognise the inherent value in failure, and embrace failure as a way to progress. At work, the pressure to excel, to meet targets, can result in an exaggerated response to perceived failure leading to stress, anxiety and depression. But there's help out there.

"Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can really help people challenge negative thoughts, and engage in 'reality testing' to modify the meaning of events perceived as failures and change the underlying beliefs we have about ourselves. And mindfulness can help us notice our thoughts and feelings, and distance ourselves from the negative impact and control they can have over us."

So try, try, and try again. There is nothing to fear in failure, it is merely a means to growth and, ultimately, success.

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