On Failure (Resumes)

life concise21

Apr 12, 2021 • failure matt • ~ 2 minute read • 499 words

This isn’t my first post on failure, and this most certainly won’t be the last. What gives?

I recently put up my failure resume (shoutout to Kat Huang for the idea!). In short, it’s a summary of my major failures since 2017.

There’s many different nuanced conversations present. Each of these things are failures to me, but are they to you? Probably not - failure is subjective, shaped by experience. Am I going to view these things as failures in the future? Is this going to impact my chances in recruiting, or for grad school? Will the list get bigger, or smaller? For these questions, I’m not sure. Those can be for another post.

In this post I want to quickly touch on a dilemma. Are failure resumes effective? Or, to generalize, is “celebrating failure” effective?

In general, I think being more public with failure - and even celebrating it - is a good thing. Internally, a healthy relationship with failure is important. Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset comes to mind. Furthermore, there’s definitely a connection between being afraid of failure and being overly risk-averse, something that I still struggle with.

Externally, it’s worse. Social media has the Instagram effect: you see a hyper-edited fake persona of someone else - you don’t see the makeup, the airbrush, or the lighting. Nobody posts about their worst days. It’s the same for resumes, LinkedIn (yuck), GitHub, and any list of accomplishments that someone has. In fact, you have an incentive to never display your failures, since your failures makes you less hireable. In turn, this spurs impostor syndrome: all of your peers present a polished version of themselves, while only you know your failures - and the comparison becomes unfair.

However, it doesn’t mean that being public with failure is a slam dunk move.

On a greedy level, being public with your failures is like the Prisoner’s Dilemma: you should always hide for maximal reward.

But beyond that, you need to do it right. Celebrating failures can be depressing; I’ve certainly received that feedback. Things that are failures to me aren’t failures to other people, and vice-versa; marking someone else’s success as a failure is sure to be demoralizing. And, sometimes it just sounds like a flex, which is definitely not the intention.

Most importantly, webpages are not a conversation. At the end of the day, impostor syndrome and healthy relationships with failure are tricky topics, and a failure resume doesn’t know who’s viewing it, or what their experiences are.

So in other words, is celebrating failures worth it? Probably, but it depends.

I think on net, the failure resume is a good idea. I’ll have to think a bit on how to present it - I’m not fully satisfied with it right now. More broadly, I hope it makes a tiny dent in the microcosm of CS and tech that I’m in right now, and dethrone some false gods.

Thank you for reading On Failure (Resumes). It was written on Apr 12, 2021 by failure matt. It was 499 words long, and should be a ~ 2 minute read. It was categorized under life. It was part of the special series concise21.