You probably have a resume that you tweak from time to time, adding skills here or new job titles there. After all, it’s important to keep your resume updated to reflect your growing set of abilities and accomplishments. But it might come as a surprise to hear that The New York Times recommends writing a second resume as a kind of self-help assignment. Except instead of highlighting your triumphs, you list your failures, mistakes, and struggles along the way.
This anti-resume goes by many names: failure resume, anti-portfolio, or “CV of failures,” to name a few. The overarching idea is the same, though. By keeping track of your failures and reflecting on them in a way that’s constructive, you can learn from your mistakes and achieve more in the future.
Here’s how it works: In the format of your choice, make a running list of your failures, whether it’s schools that rejected you, projects that flopped, or goals you didn’t quite achieve. The key is not to dwell on these mistakes for hours, according to Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School who inspired several academics to create their own failure resumes a few years ago.
“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,” Stefan wrote in an article that originally appeared in the journal Nature. “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.”
Scientists aren’t the only ones who can benefit from mulling over their mistakes, either. J.K. Rowling, for instance, is one of the many wildly successful people who has spoken publicly about her failures. Researchers at Columbia University announced last year that they planned to interview Nobel laureates about their own failures in an attempt to better understand how personal and professional losses can foster learning.
On her own “CV of failures,” Stefan writes, “Previous boss told me this would be the end of my academic career” [PDF]. Another bullet point under her education section reads, “Only PhD programme I was actually admitted to.”
For more examples, check out Princeton University professor Johannes Haushofer’s CV of failures [PDF]; management consultant Sara Rywe’s CV of failures [PDF]; and the “rejections and failures” section toward the bottom of a CV made by neuroscientist Bradley Voytek of the University of California, San Diego [PDF].