How to Embrace Failure to Find Success

Princeton University professor, Johannes Haushofer has been getting a lot of press attention in recent weeks since he tweeted a link to his  CV of failures. This alternative CV lists job applications, bursary applications and submissions to journals – all unsuccessful. The idea of the exercise, developed by Edinburgh University academic Melanie Stefan, is to show that although career progression might look effortless, a lot of trying and failing comes before success.

Around the same time as the story came out I listened to the podcast episode Gaming the System from series 3 of Startup by Gimlet Media. This episode charts the journey of the team behind Twitch, the live-streaming platform acquired by Amazon for  $1billion in 2014. It offers a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of developing a company.
Towards the end of the episode founder, Justin Kan, talks about the factors that led to their eventual success, principally working hard to create the opportunities to succeed,  ‘it’s like you are accruing lottery tickets, ... the more you work, the more you iterate and the smarter you are the more you increase your chances of being successful’  


Both of these examples point to the fact that the more opportunities you give yourself, the greater the chance of something working out. This is something I’ve seen in my own career, in fact, I’m often surprised  that it’s generally the email, phone call or event I thought pointless that generates a relationship, or a lead, or pushes a project that little bit further along.

Career coaching clients, especially those who are unhappy in their roles often ask ‘what did I do wrong?’. It’s an important question to answer and understanding the choices and circumstances that led you to where you are is crucial. However, instead of just dwelling on what went wrong I think you should also be asking, ‘what didn’t I do?’ and once you understand that, ask yourself ‘what can I do going forwards?’

I think the CV of Failures has the potential to be a fantastic self-assessment tool and I’ve been thinking about how it can be used to create opportunities for future failure and success. 
Have a go at the exercise below and see how you can use it to fail more on the way to attaining your goals.

Are you Failing Enough?

1.    Write your CV of Failures- structure it along the same lines as a traditional CV including any action that you've actively taken that has failed e.g. a job application rejected, an unsuccessful pitch.

2.    Write a corresponding CV of Missed Opportunities. These are any occasions where you had the chance to take action but didn’t.

3.    How are the lists  balanced? Did you pass up more opportunities than you took? Have you been playing it safe? Is there room for more action?

4.    Think about what you would like to achieve in your career and commit to three actions that will offer you the opportunity to expand your options and further your career. They won't all work out, but that's kind of the point!
•    Email someone you admire to ask them to mentor you
•    Go to a networking event and come away with three new (relevant) contacts
•    Apply for a role you would love but you think is slightly out of your comfort zone.

Happy Failing!

Jess Wright is a Career Coach working in London and Manchester and Online. If you want to make a Career Change and think coaching might help, or if you're looking for Career Advice send Jess an email to